Taximetriști (2023)

It was an eventful few months for fans of Romanian movies, with a bunch of releases that proved varied not only in genre, but also in quality. Taximetriști falls plum in the middle quality-wise, B.T. Olteanu’s movie surprising in its serious tone – I admit, the trailer misled me to believe this will be a much lighter affair. Ultimately it’s an uneven ride with uneven characters, that somehow still manages to stay afloat thanks to some inspired moments.

The gist of it is simple: we follow two taxi drivers, who also happen to be friends, around Bucharest. One of them, Lică (Alexandru Ion) is an obnoxious know-it-all, while the other, Liviu (Rolando Matsangos) is reserved and seemingly introspective. We’re presented with a series of interactions, basically shorts, as the two meet various clients, until the movie coalesces into something of a more traditional narrative in its second half. It’s not Panahi, so don’t expect too much authenticity, as Olteanu tries to be both lighthearted and sour in his appraisal of Romanian society and interpersonal relationships.

There are some problems with the whole thing: it starts off with two caustically unpleasant scenes, where Lică is aggressively macho and homophobic, that could definitely have done with a more even touch. Even if we interpret him as a grotesque caricature, it then doesn’t fit the down to earth scenes with Liviu, whose character is far more real-to-life. Yes, Lică undergoes this big transformative arc, or rather his night brings to light the lonely guy who hides behind the facade, but to me it didn’t work.

Then another problem is that not all the “shorts” are equally engaging. While the format does land itself to introduce varied commentary, the dominant theme, that we live in a society of chumps who work to make a living and snakes who run the world, is not particularly fresh, if ever relevant. It doesn’t help much that the dialogue hits you hot and cold – never consistently funny or insightful, but with the occasional moment of reverie.

And yet, Taximetrişti hits a chord every once in a while. Of the shorts, I found the one with Monica Bârlădeanu particularly cute, even jovial in its pretense and misdirection. Or, similarly, the one with a shy Cosmin Nedelcu being kept waiting by his girlfriend. Of the multi-scene stories, Liviu’s relationship with his wife (Victoria Răileanu) is harrowingly true to life, a downbeat, frustrating and almost tragic falling apart that gave me flashes of PTSD. Even Lică’s comparably lighter tale with the wife of a local gangster has its moments, sustained by Maria Popistasu’s ire and disdain. I’d even go so far as to say that some of the smaller moments tracking Lică and Liviu have charm, but it’s just not consistent enough.

That’s in part because the tone is all over the place. Are we supposed to believe that that’s how a taxi driver’s nightshift sways? Colour me unimpressed. There’s just too little mundanity to make any claim to realism, Olteanu doesn’t dare to characterize in silence and gestures as much as he should/could (aaah, Tangerine).

I realize this all reads like a bit of a bashing, but that’s out of frustration that Taximetrişti could have been more than it ended up being. As it stands, there’s still a case to be made that it’s a worthwhile movie, prodding our modern social fabric with an inquisitive stick. Just not too inquisitive. 6

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