Three volunteer workers set out from Bucharest in a convoy destined for the mountainous hinterlands of Romania, where they plan to distribute aid supplies to remote villages. But when their SUV breaks down after they decide to help a lonely old man on a desolate mountain road, their notions of empathy and charity get put to the test. What begins as a kind of survival thriller takes a detour into the realm of social satire, as the do-gooders' good intentions are put under the microscope.
Was a lot of research involved?
I think things are a bit more fundamental there. I really tried to understand the basis of things in that remote area. People are understanding these notions of altruism [differently] and helping one another for survival. I stayed for two months in that area. Time is passing in a different way. I went for a lot of location scouting.
When I saw him and spoke with him, I instantly saw that he was the right person. I met him when we were in our first location scouting in that area. We were location scouting in this small village, and I saw Luca Sabin with the other two villagers on a small, unpaved road. He was going to the church to cut the grass in the churchyard. We didn’t shoot in Întregalde; we shot in the village next to it. But I really wanted this authenticity that I think only a guy from that area can bring. Some of the locals said, “No, I understand, but I have my own problems with the cows and all these animals in the yard, and I don’t want to get involved with this.” But he was really happy to be part of the project. And he really wanted this experience from the start. I was a little bit crazy, because I risked a lot when I had this idea to use a local guy – not an actor – to play this part. He looked exactly, he talked exactly like the character.
They normally have this once-a-year expedition in remote areas – they try to play Santa Claus in a way to help the local people with food, some stuff for the winter. I went with my two co-writers on two expeditions – one in 2012, and the other in 2016 – and we had a better understanding of this small phenomenon. For me, it was interesting to question the motives of these actions, the generosity – how much of this is about you, the one who performed these acts, and how much does it really help the local people? It’s not much, but at least they have the feeling that someone is thinking of them. It had a really difficult birth. I started to think about it 10 years ago, when I first heard about these humanitarian expeditions of off-road 4×4 adventure clubs.
I’m curious to find out about these kinds of experiences, and about how I would act in life-threatening circumstances. These days, in society, in media and in social media, we’re talking a lot about charity and this altruistic aspect of normal life. And at the same time, to try to understand what you’re doing, and to understand if it’s relevant or not for the beneficiaries. Testing them is like testing me. But I think it’s important to go a little bit deeper, to question yourself about your motives, whether or not it’s part of your own personal project. It’s also about putting myself in a difficult position, in a position of trying to understand how these people are living. I try to put characters in uncomfortable positions, in different situations than they’re used to, in order to test them. I think it’s important, when you’re talking about this notion of generosity, to think more about knowing the beneficiary – knowing the conditions they’re living in.
Large stretches of the movie feel like a set-up for the sort of movie we’ve seen before: three people lost in the woods as darkness falls. Did you purposely want to play with these sorts of genre conventions and expectations?
Produced by Dragos Vilcu of Bucharest-based Multimedia Est, it stars Maria Popistașu, Ilona Brezoianu, and Alex Bogdan as a trio of volunteer workers struggling to see the forest for the trees. “Întregalde,” which recently premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival, is the seventh feature film from Romanian New Wave veteran Radu Muntean (“Tuesday, After Christmas”).
What made you want to leave that world as a filmmaker and explore a very different Romanian reality? Your last few films focused on largely middle-class, urban lives – in fact, the sort of lives the volunteers Maria, Dan and Ilinca probably lead back in Bucharest.
It’s very different from the almost patronizing attitude of these do-gooders from the city. It’s a question that hangs over the whole movie. When we do see this village later on in the film, we see that the community is somehow self-sufficient – that they do have needs, but they also manage to take care of themselves and look after each other.
It was while you were location scouting that you discovered the non-professional actor Luca Sabin, who steals every scene he’s in. How did you find and cast him?
But it’s a way of playing with people’s preconceptions and viewers’ preconceptions about movies, almost like the characters in the movie have their own preconceptions about the locals’ lives. My main goal was to put the characters in this difficult situation where being altruistic is tested – when your life is threatened, and you have no reference point and everything is changing around you. It was part of the plan, but it was not my main goal. This was not my main purpose. You have to think twice when you decide to be generous.” />
Film Festival, which runs July 23 – Aug. 1. Muntean spoke to Variety ahead of the film's Romanian premiere to discuss the limits of charity, the selfish motives lurking behind good deeds, and why he wants to upend his audience's expectations when they go to the cinema. This week "Întregalde" screens during the Transilvania Intl.
If we are going to start the debate, I can easily be the defense lawyer of each character. Helping one another is about survival. [The movie is looking at] the two different ways of thinking about generosity or altruism. It’s really about survival. Out there in these remote places, where life is really tough, and the nature is somehow dictating everything in their lives, it’s about survival. They’re tough conditions, and you have to take care of the people next to you. They all have their own angles. I’m not even sure that you can call it altruism. It’s not about showing off to other people, or about padding your self-esteem.
What was the starting point for "Întregalde"?

That’s the inescapable flaw of “Alice T.,” a slice-of-life look at a narcissistic 16-year-old fabulist of unredeeming unpleasantness who leads her mother and friends on a merry lark when she gets pregnant, claims to want the child, and then medically aborts without telling her family. A final, overextended scene appears to locate some kind of frightened remorse in the teen, but few will buy this kind of redemption. Muntean’s reputation with the festival crowd should guarantee a fair amount of travel, but not as much as his earlier films. Radu Muntean’s particular brand of undramatic Romanian realism works best when it’s possible to extend sympathy to his main characters; when likability is non-existent, the experiment falls flat.
Attitudes change when they go to the doctor and see the sonogram pictures — Bogdana’s maternal feelings override her anger, and she offers loving support. Characterized by flaming red hair and a hardened streak of intractability, Alice (Andra Guti) has just taken abortion money from her boyfriend Horatiu (Octavian Strunila), although she has no plans of going to the clinic. All hell breaks loose when her divorced mother Bogdana (Mihaela Sîrbu, always a welcome presence) realizes that her daughter is pregnant, but Alice counters that Bogdana, who adopted her as an infant, couldn’t understand what it’s like.
The three generations sit on a bed giggling, sharing a loving moment, and yet, it’s so uncharacteristic of Alice and the film that it takes a few seconds to remember that even pathological liars can need a cuddle session. There’s just one scene of warming intimacy in the movie, when Alice asks her grandmother (Alexandrina Halic) about when she discovered that Bogdana had lost her virginity. This doesn’t mean however, as attempted in the final sequence, that Alice has a genuine road to Damascus moment, and the script’s overreach here ends the film on a major false note. It’s a pity because there are times when Muntean’s attention to small details recalls why some of his other films offer superior satisfactions, as in a bathroom-set scene when Alice struggles under pressure to open the plastic packaging on a home pregnancy testing kit.
With things calmer at home, Alice continues to bully her classmates (when she bothers to show up for school) and then takes abortion pills, which do their work while she’s watching TV with a friend. Clearly all the falsehoods are designed to control the world around her, and yet that realization offers more shoulder shrugs than compassion. Blithely cleaning up the blood and treating it all as if it’s a bit of fun, she then spends family time pretending she’s still pregnant, weaving a cloak of lies that she wears with casual abandon.
But most of our sympathy goes to Sîrbu’s Bogdana, who seems to have tried her best to raise her daughter largely alone, though it would have been good to have a little more sense of the woman. Relative newcomer Guti has no problem holding the screen, instilling the character with an uncontrollable self-centered energy that holds the attention even as it corrodes pity. Cinematographer Tudor Lucaciu creates some striking images, showcasing Alice’s Raggedy-Ann red hair and using it as a focal point for a teenager eager to draw attention to herself.” />