”A Farewell to Fools” is a thin — very thin — Romanian fable dressed up by an international cast, a Romanian countryside that could pass for Provence or Tuscany and a World War II setting.
Ipu, played by Gerard Depardieu, took a bullet to the head in “The Great War” and has never been the same since. He’s a little slow, but the Romanian village where he’s settled indulges him. He’s a farm laborer, he’s married and gets to spend his lazy days fishing or playing war with his little friend Alex (Bogdan Iancu, in a modern moptop).
The Germans have occupied Romania for years, so long that Alex has even made friends with some of them. But when a trusting young trooper is murdered outside of town, there will be heck to pay. Either the murderer comes forward, the Nazi officer declares, or the “leading authorities” of the village will be shot at dawn.
An effective moment — ten chairs are dragged out of shops around the main square, ten black blindfolds set on them by the Germans. Yes, they’re serious.
No one will confess. The local police have no clue who was to blame. And with only hours before they’re shot, the “authorities” — the mayor, the doctor, the notary and the preacher (Harvey Keitel) and their wives frantically search for a solution.
Ipu! He won’t know any better. His life’s not worth much. Let’s talk him into confessing! They wine and dine him. They sugar coat it.
“It’s your birthday!” they say, a pretext for a party.
“I don’t have a birthday. I was never born.”
He could be “a hero” who “sacrifices himself for everyone.”
Ipu is confused. Then Ipu starts to bargain, and that’s when “A Farewell to Fools” is at its most engaging.
Depardieu plays this fellow as slow, but plainly not as slow as the script or the townsfolk suggest. They’ll rename the town square, give him a monument, give land to his family, pray in his name every day. For starters.
And as he bargains, the “authorities” grow more frantic. Time’s running out, and they see their own mortality slipping away. “Sure, anything you want, Ipu! Anything, Ipu!”
Things take a Tom Sawyerish turn as the best way to ensure your funeral will be as epic as they promise is to make them do a dry run — in the middle of the night.
But blame it on the script, the rushed direction by newcomer Brogdan Dreyer (the movie’s too brief to really settle in) or the mismatched cast, “Farewell to Fools” never takes flight. It’s never the bittersweet comedy it aims to be, with Ipu not being convincingly “simple” enough and the movie around him never quite finding the sweet spot that would have made it winning.
It’s good to see Depardieu in an English-speaking role again, but he can only carry “A Farewell to Fools” so far by himself, especially when he never commits to “simple” heart and soul. But if any film can make you change your plans for Provence this summer, “Fools” might be it. Romania is lovely, as we can see, in August.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a violent image and brief strong language
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Harvey Keitel, Laura Morante, Bogdan Iancu.
Credits: Directed by Bogdan Dreyer, written by Anusavan Salamanian. A Monterey Media release.
Running time: 1:24
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