Romania has built a strong film movement over the last few years. From the powerful The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu and the provocative Police, Adjective to the chilling 4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, they have created some of best examples of world cinema this decade. They’re harrowing human stories that depict the country’s political crises, be it abortion laws, policing or health care.
In many ways, Of Snails And Men from director Tudor Giuriu is no different, satirising Romania’s trade relationship with France during the early ‘90s. But in its execution the film is remarkably distinctive, shunning the cold, bleak gaze of its national counterparts and instead wearing the influences of charming working class dramas The Full Monty and Brassed Off proudly on its sleeve.
It tells the story of George (Andi Vasluianu), a womanizing worker at one of Campulung’s biggest employers: a factory for the creation of automobiles. However, it’s soon to be acquired by a French businessman who will reopen it as a place to package cans of snails, leaving hundreds of people out of work. In order to raise enough money to buy their factory back, George comes up with an unconventional plan: Having seen an advert for a sperm bank in Budacrest that charges $50 for men’s semen, he convinces his fellow workers to donate and invest the money they earn in their business.
As the men conspire to donate their semen, much to the disapproval of the factory’s director awaiting a pay-off and their embarrassed families as it becomes national news, Of Snails And Men provides a lot of laughs. A scene in which they attempt to fill out the bank’s application forms with fake details about their tastes and personalities in an attempt to be more suitable donors, for example, is a clear standout. But Of Snails And Men isn’t just funny; it’s also got a lot of heart. There’s a touching camaraderie between the workers and it ultimately makes it moving to see them fight the system, albeit in their own idiosyncratic way.
Of Snails And Men is well grounded, furthermore, in the reality of the social and class struggles that occurred during Romania’s economic woes. Underneath all the charm and the comedy it has quite a scathing – and fairly blunt – point to make about the effects rampant capitalism on ordinary workers trying to provide for their families. It not only captures a feeling that was certainly felt by many Romanian workers during this time of economic transition, but still manages to resonate in a financially unstable Europe today.
There are, of course, elements in Of Snails And Men that don’t work. The relationship between a secretary and the French businessman’s son, who ultimately comes to care for the workers’ plight through his love for her, is slightly derivative and a little too familiar. Meanwhile, there are characters and subplots that don’t quite feel fully formed. However, for the 90 minutes of its duration, Of Snails And Men is a pleasure to watch. It’s a film embedded with the same themes that recur throughout Romanian cinema but tackled in a way that’s amusing and uplifting – a way we’ve rarely seen in their movies before.
Of Snails And Men plays at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 28th and 29th