Today’s trek on Around the World with Netflix is a Romanian drama about power, obsession, guilt and regret.
“The Father Who Moves Mountains (Tata mută munții)” takes us into the Romanian winter where a politically-connected father (Adrian Titieni) frantically tries to organize the rescue of his son, lost-in-the-snowy Bucegi Mountains.
Mircea could be a villainous hero or a heroic villain in this tale. His obsession, the bullying and bribing, reason-ignoring and rule-bending he does in pursuit of his single-minded goal summons up memories of Romania’s bad old days, the Ceausescu police state where having power meant the rules were different for you.
He’s older, retired, a man who cheated on his first wife (Elena Purea) and is about to be a father again with his younger second bride (Judith Slate). He’s dyed his hair and his beard to match his new wife and new life.
When we meet him, he’s clumsily decorating a Christmas tree. We instantly gather that he’s important enough to ignore his phone, which is blowing up, to pay little heed of the TV, which is reporting two missing college kids in the mountains.
Then he answers the call. He rushes to the ski resort where this happened. The rescue team’s leader (Valeriu Andriuta) assures him that everything that can be done is being done. He won’t let Mircea go up to look for himself because “we’d have to rescue you” (in Romanian with English subtitles).
Mircea pleads “We can’t wait until morning,” and that “I have to do SOMETHING,” to the searchers and to his trusted aide (Virgil Aioanei).
He doesn’t want to hear “It’s in God’s hands now,” is even willing to pay the searchers to redouble their efforts. He’s not used to hearing “No.” He won’t stand for “nothing more can be done.” The family of the coed his son was hiking with are here, and relating “clairvoyant” relatives’ intuition to him, but he holds his temper.
And then his ex-wife arrives, and we pick up on their unresolved issues and the grief and rage which her Orthodox faith cannot lessen. His current wife shows up, too, pregnant and increasingly concerned.
When the once-powerful man takes matters into his own hands, her concern seems justified.
I like the way writer-director Daniel Sandu (“One Step Behind the Seraphim”) doles out the layers of Mircea’s entitlement, the help he summons that would not be available to the average citizen in today’s Romania, his “not my problem” attitude toward the family of others missing on that mountain.
The film never crosses from drama into thriller. There’s little suspense, and like Mircea, the viewer can wonder where the sense of urgency is.
The tech and military efficiency deployed in the story’s third act doesn’t change that, or fundamentally alter Mircea’s mental state or sense of lost power and the lack of control.
Titieni’s performance takes the character from brusque to what can feel like a performative level of compassion and concern, into guilt for the son he wasn’t there for and the wife he abandoned.
Mortality works its way in here as well. He can’t keep up with the search teams, can’t bull his way through this predicament toward any satisfactory conclusion.
The rocky terrain and snowy fog make a striking setting for this intimate morality tale, and Titieni’s compelling turn as a figure whose bull-in-a-china-shop present suggests a sinister past make this story of power, influence and their limits when life and death are on the line well worth watching.
Rating: TV-MA, smoking, profanity
Cast: Adrian Titieni, Judith State, Elena Purea, Virgil Aioanei,
Tudor Smoleanu and Valeriu Andriuta
Credits: Scripted and directed by Daniel Sandu. A Netflix release.