A pretty woman sits in a café. Her phone rings, setting her in motion. She hastily grabs her bag and walks out with purpose. A few seconds later, she is dead. We’ll never get to know her. Yet Ioana – her name, we will learn – is the centre of Andrei Cretulescu’s first feature film Charleston. One could even be more specific: she is a fulcrum, the vital third point of that most human of geometries, the love triangle. Perhaps she had found her own point of balance. But this fragile equilibrium collapses with her death, and we get to observe the unleashing of inexorable tensions between the two remaining poles of the triangle: her husband Alexandru (Serban Pavlu) and her lover Sebastian (Radu Iacoban), two drastically dissimilar men.
A dryly-humorous ballet of contrasts – attraction and repulsion, aggression and truce – shapes the contours of an improbable friendship, in which insults and compliments go hand in hand. But the filmmaker’s mockeries are gentle and the archetypes he presents to us contain their share of hidden complexities.
Hollywood star Charlton Heston is mentioned twice in the film, by a friend who rants about the actor being the man and by Sebastian, when asked if he’s a fan of anyone. These references to an ideal of virility serve to exasperate the secretly hurting Alexandru. “I’m not happy and I’m not sad. I’m fine, and I don’t need anything,” he swears. But there is no such thing as “the Omega man,” a specimen of impeccable courage and brains meant to be the last one on Earth. Humans need one another, and their weaknesses can be just as superb as perfection.