Screens at CIFF: 10/9 & 10/14 & 10/15
World premiere: 18 May, 2011, Cannes Film Festival

It's certainly too early to confidently announce the death of the Romanian New Wave, especially with Corneliu Porumboiu and Christian Mungiu still alive and well, but it doesn't take a doomsday prophet to find that the country's national style has been losing steam for at least a couple of years now. So it's less disappointing and more inevitable that we'd come to a flat-out failure of Romanian filmmaking, though it's not the less disappointing just because you could see it coming. But anyway: Loverboy, the second feature from director Cǎtǎlin Mitulescu (I have not seen his 2006 The Way I Spent the End of the World, but I have heard good-not-great things), a film about pimps and prostitutes that is single-mindedly determined not to have any point at all, with a central character who remains opaque not as part of the film's strategy, but because he's too damned uninteresting for words.

Luca (George Piştereanu) is a floppy-haired pensive, all-around standard issue pretty young man who very likely has to beat the girls off with a stick. And, in fact, he probably does beat girls with a stick, because he's a procurer: all those sweet young girls who flock to his easygoing boy-next-door charm, after the seduction is over, end up trapped in a life of prostitution. This way of life is going just absolutely fine for Luca until the day he brings the innocent Veli (Ada Condeescu) back to his ramshackle home on the outskirts of anywhere, and after taking her virginity in a rather dismal manner, finds that he's fallen in love with his presumed victim, and she with him. So he starts up a proper relationship with her, trying to separate himself from the sordid world of his so-recent past, and attempting to make a go out of the broken down restaurant occupying the same space as his home, a relic of a bygone day when that spot was a tourist resort.

Ah, but The Life has a way of keeping folks against their will, and the more that Luca tries to be a decent lover and provider, the more resentful he grows, and the likelier it becomes that he's just one argument away from throwing Veli to the curb and taking up his pimp life once more.

At this point, you probably have a fairly clear idea of what Loverboy is on about, and even worse, your idea is almost certainly better: the film is precisely as trite as it sounds based on that précis (the healing power of love! but with a tragic reversal), but even triteness can still be meaningful in its private way. There's no way to imagine a version of this film that is original or surprising, but it can be easily seen how, at the very least, Luca's self-destructed psychology could make for a compelling hour and a half of character study (for the film is, indeed, a compact 94 minutes; but it feels horribly longer than that).

Well, it may be easy for you to see, and it may be easy for me to see, but it must have been quite a damn challenge for Mitulescu, because Loverboy certainly doesn't work any better as a character study than as an explosive and revelatory peek into the sleazy world of Romanian prostitution rings: not even a bit. Maybe the fault lies in the screenplay, which Mitulescu wrote alongside Bogdan Mustata and Bianca Oana, which does a surprisingly sloppy job of giving Luca, Veli, or anybody else a particular reason to act the way they do (the giant gulf at the center of all the film's problems is the question: why this girl? Why now? Maybe the ambiguity is meant to be compelling in itself, but it surely isn't). It could certainly be Piştereanu's profoundly bland performance, so contented with latching onto the most obvious external facts about Luca - he is a dick, and he is a troublemaker - that the actor never bothers with even the pro forma attempt at showing us that there's more to him deep down than we're necessarily seeing. And I am sure that Mitulescu's annoyingly routine direction does us no good, holding the characters at enough of a remove that it's hard to care about them either as people or as the figures in a symbolic drama; I also rather regret the complete indifference that Mitulescu demonstrates towards every single female in the movie; one does not get the sense that Loverboy has any more regard for women than its seedy protagonist does.

Romanian cinema will, of course, recover; really bad movies happen all the time. But now it's two years in a row that one of the major exports is just not very interesting (last year it was the hollow If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, which was still considerably better than this), and that is not a becoming trend. Let us not delve into that unpleasant matter though. Loverboy is what it is: a pointless, superficial drama about bad people being bad. It is sufficiently enervating on its own that there's no good reason to tie it to any great historical moment, or to give it any consideration at all, really.