On a rainy Sunday morning 7-year-old Marian and his father takes off to the city to repair their TV set. Living far out in the countryside they have to walk through the terrain carrying the heavy TV set all the way to the closest road to catch the bus. They have a long journey a head of them and they bump into many problems on the way. The chances to be home in time for the Bruce Lee film in the evening seem smaller and smaller for every step.
Sensitive and pure
Lampa cu căciulă is a sensitively told story about the love between a father and a son. The director Radu Jude approaches his characters carefully and always leaves enough room to make them interesting and ambiguous. The camera follows the events from a distance and never gets to close. It always leaves a certain personal space for the characters. Jude has chosen a very pure way of telling the story. Not unlike his compatriot Cristian Mungiu in the equally successful Romanian feature 4 luni, 3 săptămâni si 2 zile / 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days . Instead of using music to underline the emotions, the soundtrack in Lampa cu căciulă is composed by atmospheric sound. There is the crow of a rooster at dawn and the sound of raindrops falling on the roof. The sound composition provides the story with a realistic background and it is through this that the film succeeds in telling us much with very small means. The plot is merely what happens on the surface while the story of the film is much deeper and far more complex.
The love between Marian and his father is not the love usually portrayed in films. There aren't any close-ups or romantic music. Itīs not that kind of banal love story where the characters express their love for each other by saying "I love you". The feelings in Lampa cu căciulă are rather displayed and proven throughout the film by the actions of the characters. This is the kind of real and every-day love that all of us can relate to. Jude depicts the love between father and son in a more subtle way which makes it more believable. Judging from what is said in the dialogue between the father and the son we would perhaps say that their relationship is not a very healthy one. But when we look beyond the surface we discover what the father actually does for his little boy and the picture changes. It is obvious from the setting of the story that this family is not very well-off. That makes the action of the father even more significant. He should probably earn money for the family or do something more important with his time, but he chooses to spend a whole day travelling to the city to repair the TV set. He basically can't say no to his little boy. In the 23 minutes of the film the dimensions of this truly beautiful act just grow and grow. Radu Jude uses this strikingly beautiful picture to depict the feelings of the father toward his son.
A part of the success of Lampa cu căciulă at festivals all over Europe and the USA could be the interplay between something we easily recognize and something unknown or exotic. A key line in this interplay is when the boy says that they have to be home in time for the Bruce Lee-film in the evening. It is an unexpected line from someone from a poor family in the Romanian countryside. It brings the boy closer to a European or American audience. Who hasn't seen a
Bruce Lee film? And who hasn't adjusted life after a TV schedule at some point? On the other hand not too many people in this part of the world wake up in the morning with the roof leaking. And most of us haven't carried our TV set through the countryside to get it repaired. The film provides many examples of this kind of interplay where something we as an audience know well (in the example above represented by the film on TV) is placed in an unknown environment (the Romanian countryside). The strategy of placing something familiar in the film is used to make it easier for us to identify with the characters and to relate to the things that are not as familiar. Through this the film can appeal to a broad audience all over the world.
Radu Jude has said that one of his sources of inspiration is Italian neo-realism. This inspiration is easy to trace in Jude's work, not least when looking at the atmosphere of the film. It is not a wild guess that one of the biggest inspirations in telling this story was Vittorio De Sica's Ladri di biciclette / The Bicycle Thief . Lampa cu căciulă bears many similarities to De Sica's masterpiece. The most obvious similarity would be the father and son relationship. Both films portray the love between father and son in very beautiful ways. In both films the father is the one acting against his own will or character to do something good for the son and the family. In Ladri di biciclette it is more a matter of life and death, but this doesn't make the actions of the father in Lampa cu căciulă any less significant. They are both acts of love displayed in a powerful and direct way. Another quite clear parallel between the two films is that both are told with an object in the center of the plot. In a way you could say that the object is what carries the story onward. In De Sica's case the bicycle plays an important role and in Jude's case the TV set pushes the story onward. In both cases the objects could be mistaken to be the very reason why the story is being told. Both filmmakers use totally different objects in their films and on the surface they use them in completely different ways. But in a deeper sense the use of the objects are similar, because they share the same function as objects within the stories. The objects become accelerators of events that reveal the inner feelings of the fathers and they also evoke the feelings of the audience. In the end Lampa cu căciulă is not a story about a TV set that needs to be repaired; it is a profound story that goes much deeper and ultimately says something about true emotion.
Lampa cu căciulă is without a doubt one of the best short films made over the last years. The film is well balanced and told with a sensitivity rarely seen. It is really impressive that someone can tell such a poignant story in such a short time and with so small means. In his short Jude is able to express more than most directors do in a feature film. It would surprise me if this is the last we will see of Radu Jude.
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