On a dark, snowy night [somewhere near Palilula] a man named Serafim gets out of a car in the middle of nowhere and hoists his suitcases across the snow, until he is distracted by the “ribbett” of a lone frog. He is suddenly blinded by the lights of an oncoming train and flings himself to safety. The train stops and the door opens; a man emerges to beckon him aboard.
At first glance, the only occupants of the train appear to be the sweaty apron-sporting driver and the welcome party of one but all of a sudden the musical efforts of a pianist and violinists drift out from behind the liberally-positioned clumps of tall potted plants. The welcoming man, initially positive, tells Serafim that there are no children in Palilula; which is relevant to Serafim as he happens to be a paediatrician. He also tells him to go home. They arrive in Palilula to be greeted by the sight of the whole town sitting on dining room chairs in the street, observing the autopsy of a doctor who had been killed by eating bad mushrooms. And so, in a similar vein, Somewhere in Palilula continues for another two hours.
Dr Serafim soon settles into life in this tattered and upside-down town despite his constant exclamations that he had no idea what to tell his father about his life. But with each whimsical character and every new scene, things become curiouser and curiouser.
The overwhelming impression I was left with, after considering the film for many hours afterwards, was that this must certainly be what it is like to imbibe a mind-altering drug or, at the very least, to have a funny dream brought on by eating cheese after midnight.
The writer and director, Romanian Silviu Purcărete, is an experienced stage director and Somewhere in Palilula is his first film, receiving funding from a number of different awards. When you know this background, it becomes a little clearer why the production is as it is. The film has been described as provocative and it certainly is that. If you are interested in unique interpretations of what life was like in eastern europe under communist rule, then this may be the acid trip for you.
Somewhere in Palilula is an experience you should undertake only if you are able to put aside your insistence that everything, or anything, should make sense.
The UK premiere Somewhere in Palilula will be shown at the East End Film Festival on 07 July.