By Gary M. Kramer.
Radu Muntean’s Boogie (aka Summer Holiday) made in 2008, is a slight, but compelling drama about the title character, Bogdan (Dragos Bucur), once nicknamed “Boogie.”
The film opens with Bogdan playing with his son Adi (Vlad Muntean, the director’s own child) on the sparsely populated beach. The characters are fully dressed, indicating that it is the off-season, not summer (despite the film’s “American” title). The scene might suggest that the parent and child are close, but Muntean’s chilly, naturalistic style indicates otherwise. Even though dad wants Adi to help him fly a kite, the boy prefers to build a sand castle. Bogdan soon becomes impatient with his son’s behavior, telling Adi to do what he wants.
Boogie reveals that Bogdan does what he wants, too. Against the wishes of his pregnant wife Smaranda’s (Anamaria Marinca), he goes for a dip in the Black Sea. She becomes frosty towards him, and returns to the hotel.
As viewers come to learn, the holiday is meant for the family to reconnect. Bogdan has been busy with work—his has a furniture business—and has not spent enough quality time with his family. However, when he bumps into Penescu (Mimi Branescu) and Iordache (Adrian Vancica), friends he knew several years ago, Bogdan opts to abandon his family and go out drinking and carousing with them—much to Smaranda’s chagrin.
In a scenario reminiscent of Cassavetes, the three men spend a long, endless night together. The formless structure of the film is captivating, and Muntean hooks viewers with its hyperrealism. When the guys’ camaraderie—their familiar joking and insults—is believable; one quickly understands the nature of their past friendship as “Boogie” flirts a woman in a charming moment.
Yet Bogdan calls it an early night, and returns to his wife in the hotel. In the film’s dramatic centerpiece, the couple fights. The scene reveals much about the resentment and honesty of their relationship. This extraordinary, uncomfortable sequence makes viewers feel like eavesdroppers, and it sets the stage for the film’s powerful third act.
Leaving Smaranda to return to his pals, Bogdan reunites with Penescu and Iordache at a nightclub. They pick up Ramona (Roxana Iancu), a prostitute and retire to the hotel. As the sexual encounters happen off screen, Bogdan discovers the depths of his friends’ unhappiness. This forces him to re-examine his own feelings about his past and present life.
Boogie’s cool tone never makes the revelations in this extended scene resonate, but the despair is—and is meant to be—palpable, not tragic. These are all men looking backward and re-evaluating their lives; they do not like what they see/have become.
Muntean may be tracing familiar dramatic territory here, but he shrewdly ends Boogie, leaving room for doubt and reflection by the characters and viewers. When Bogdan returns to his wife, and they have another heart-to-heart talk, he is a changed man. And in the film’s antepenultimate shot, Bucur and Marinca exchange particularly telling glances
If Boogie is not as accomplished as Muntean’s next feature, Tuesday, After Christmas, it certainly showcases the assured talent of this fantastic Romanian filmmaker.
Gary M. Kramer is a freelance film critic and the author of Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews.