O luna in Thailanda/A Month in Thailand (2012)

I'm not going to go in depth into the intricacies of the Romanian New Wave movement, mainly because I know absolutely nothing about the Romanian New Wave movement, aside from what I can glean from Wikipedia. The short version seems to be a focus on realism and grounded storytelling - those are certainly qualities on display in "A Month in Thailand," a film which is set neither in Thailand, nor over the span of a month. Instead, the movie takes place over approximately 24 hours starting on the morning of New Year's Eve. The title refers to a theoretical vacation the movie's main character wants to go on with a girlfriend that also serves as a sort of stand-in for the kind of person he aspires to be and the sort of relationship he wants to be in.

By design, the plot here is fairly sparse. The movie opens with the main character, Radu, in a relationship with Adina. It's clear early on that Radu isn't completely satisfied, but things really take a turn after the sees someone he believes is his ex, Nadia, in a grocery store. He takes this as a sign and breaks up with Adina that evening, then proceeds to spend the rest of the movie trying to find Nadia and win her back. On the way, he turns down at least one opportunity to start a relationship and opts not to pursue a woman who he seems to have a genuine connection with. By the end, he finally finds Nadia, explains how he believes he made a mistake in breaking up with her, and convinces her to take him back. The two sleep together as the sun rises, mirroring a similar love scene in the opening minutes of the movie with Adina.

Divorced from context, that probably sounds like an optimistic finale, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The movie makes it clear he broke up with Nadia a year earlier for reasons similar to breaking up with Adina, and in both cases he was driven more by a sense of being unfulfilled than a real issue with the women. I don't think it's a coincidence Nadia and Adina's names are anagrams of each other, either: there's no substance behind his goal, just the romantic fantasy of chasing after an ideal. Then, when he catches it, that fantasy invariably starts to unravel. He tries to hide his disappointment, but you can see the revelation that Nadia wasn't the person he saw at the store. Likewise, when she expresses no interest in going away with him to Thailand, it's evident he's already having doubts.

The takeaway here is that Radu's problem isn't who he's with. He wants a fulfilling narrative, rather than a serious, grown-up relationship, and I imagine he'll break Nadia's heart before too long and as likely as not convince himself Adina is the "one who got away."

What I find interesting here in the context of the holidays is the way this subverts the standard New Year's story. Hell, it subverts the basic building blocks of most stories, in general: growth and change. But New Year's stories typically double down on this idea, using the holiday itself as a metaphor for internal growth. Radu seems to buy into that, himself, wanting just that sort of transformative change for his relationship. But the end of the movie sees him in the precise state he starts in, trapped in a seemingly endless cycle.

How does this comment on the cultural state of Romania in modern times?

That wasn't a rhetorical question. Does anyone know? Anyone have any knowledge of Romanian culture a decade ago? I'm just a Christmas guy: I'm way out of my wheelhouse here.

Regardless, I think this is interesting as a counterpoint to the standard New Year's template, as well as a nice counter-example to the adage that stories need protagonists who undergo a meaningful internal transformation to work. O luna in Thailanda is a good reminder that you can effectively tell a story about a character failing to change, as well.

The movie is effectively shot: director Paul Negoescu creates a very grounded sense that the viewer is in the scene as it unfolds. Likewise, the performances are good, with Andrei Mateiu particularly believable in the lead role. To the limited degree I'm able to judge any of this, the movie struck me as very well made, technically speaking.

But did I like it? Again, I'm not part of the culture this movie was made in or for, so there's almost certainly a great deal of context I'm missing. That said, if you're reading this review, odds are better than not the same is true of you. I found the movie interesting enough for the glimpse it offered at the holidays in another culture, and as a character study of its fairly unlikeable protagonist. However, the combination of realism and the fact a lack of payoff was baked into the premise makes it more valuable from an academic standpoint than as a viewing experience. Some of that may very well be a result of jokes and nuance being lost in translation, however.

That brings up another topic. This is advertised as a comedy, but it struck me as being more dramatic than funny. There are certainly jokes, and aspects of the main character's journey are humorous in nature, but the driving tone felt relatively serious. But it's difficult to say how much I'm missing due to cultural illiteracy.

Regardless, it's a neat movie that inverts expectations around New Year's, but I don't think I'd recommend it to American viewers who aren't already interested in the topic, unless of course they have some background in Romanian culture.