From New Zealand Herald:
Rating: * * * *
The goofy and the grim in a single polished package.
Little seen in the English-speaking world outside the festival circuit, this short but potent Romanian feature is old-fashioned, even quaintly dated, but that's a strength, not a weakness. Writer-director Malaele, making his first film, is a revered comedian and theatre director in his homeland and there's an intensely theatrical quality to the way he tells his fable-like story: we're reminded of pantomime or the allegories of travelling players (a troupe of whom appear in the film) and as in all the best theatre, comedy and tragedy exist side by side.
The story, tellingly remembered for a present-day documentary crew who never really get it, is set in 1953 in a small village - a backwater of Soviet-ruled Romania untouched by electricity or internal combustion. Malaele delicately assembles a portrait of the gruff but loving relations between the unkempt villagers in a series of sequences that seem to channel everything from commedia dell'arte through silent-era slapstick to Pier Paolo Pasolini.
The very public amorous exertions of a young couple are causing strife between their respective families until they soothe the troubled waters by announcing their decision to wed. But just as the village is sitting down to the nuptials, a hatchet-faced Russian soldier arrives: the sudden death of "the leader of all peoples" Josef Stalin has ushered in a week of national mourning and all celebration is banned.
There's a clue to how the village deals with this in the title, but nothing quite prepares us for what follows. It's worth warning that the film moves sharply from the goofy to the grim, but the director's command of these emotional shifts is confident and assured. The film has the feel of a folk tale that is dealing with a dark episode in the national history and stylistically it's more traditional than innovative. But there's great skill on display, from a large ensemble cast and from a director who knows much about visual storytelling: the arrival of a circus in town has an eerie, Felliniesque quality and a 60-second montage that depicts the wedding preparations is the work of a maestro. Recommended.