TIFF Review: 'The Fixer'

The Fixer
(Romania/France, 98 min.)
Dir. Adrian Sitaru, Writ. Claudia Silisteanu, Adrian Silisteanu
Starring: Tudor Aaron Istodor, Mehdi Nebbou, Nicolas Wanczycki, Diana Spatarescu
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
Courtesy of TIFF

Fans of world cinema owe it to themselves to see The Fixer. This new film by Adrian Sitaru (Domestic) sees the Romanian New Wave ripple international waters with a handsome and tautly-paced drama that harnesses the tendencies of one national cinema within the scope of international filmmaking. As with last year’s co-pro Closer to the Moon, The Fixer is further proof of a robust film scene after 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days changed the game in 2007.

Sitaru’s film, penned by a smart and observant screenplay from Claudia Silisteanu and Adrian Silisteanu, the latter of whom is also the film’s cinematographer, The Fixer stars Tudor Aaron Istodor as Radu, a trainee journalist at a French news outlet who hopes to make it big. Radu hones his skills as a reporter by assuming the role of “the fixer.” The job is just as it sounds, a clandestine effort that sees him wrangle deals with officials, get the inside scoop from witnesses and sources, and overall make things happen so that the TV cameras can get to the heart of the story.

Being a fixer inevitably forces Radu to put the job before people, though, and he encounters this difficulty when a news story hits close to home as two teenage girls are repatriated to Romanian after French authorities charge them with prostitution. This case deals with sensitive issues, family heartache, and the rights of minors, but Radu generally ploughs through and convinces implicated parties to aid in service of the story. When Anca (Diana Spatarescu), the young girl at the centre of the story, however, exhibits fear and behaviour beyond Radu’s expectations, the fixer reframes his outlook at media and wonders at what cost one should pursue a headline.

The tale brings all sorts of socio-cultural implications as Radu leads his team throughout rural Romania. Driving through villages marked by the scars of communism, these impoverished towns offer little hope for the future of young women like Anca. What drives one to extremes of desperation, however, isn’t the story; the titillating tease of teenage prostitution is.

The Fixer has the atmosphere of a Dardennes fable as Radu navigates the countryside and the complexities of old ghosts harboured by the former government and the weak economy. The Fixer draws upon subdued and natural performances to create a stark world of unflinching authenticity. The film is just as stripped and raw as Sitaru’s Domestic and with just as compelling a sense of realism, although the production values advance noticeably with the crisp desaturated cinematography adding a melancholy kitchen sink palette instead of the usual nakedness one sees in Romanian DV.

The real coup of the film, however, is its finale in which Radu confronts his complicity in dehumanising his subjects and failing to see people on a personal level while pursuing his goals. Set in a large Olympic-sized swimming pool in which Radu’s young son trains in the lanes, the location frames the film and conveys the character’s awakening without uttering a word. Sitaru evokes a scene reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown as direct sounds from the location double as a musical score. Splashes, whistles, buzzers, and cajoling coaches and parents create a stressfully suffocating atmosphere as the young boy swims his fastest and feels the pressure to succeed. The sound pulsates with deafening fury as Sitaru conveys the overwhelming choice one must make to tune out the noise and value one’s personal relationships above all outside forces.

The Fixer screens:
-Friday, September 9 at 9:30 PM at Scotiabank 10
-Sunday, September 11 at 1:45 PM at Scotiabank 8
-Saturday, September 17 at 6:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 3

TIFF runs Sept. 8-18.
Please visit www.tiff.net for more information.