In Bucharest in 1959, a disillusioned group of old friends from the WWII Jewish Resistance hijack a van delivering cash to the Romanian National Bank, staging the robbery so it looks like a movie shoot – which fascinates a young onlooker, a café waiter named Virgil (Henry Lloyd). In time, the four men and a woman are arrested, tried in a kangaroo court and convicted. While waiting for their execution, they’re forced by the Securitate – a.k.a. Romanian secret police – to re-enact the robbery in a slyly anti-Semitic propaganda film depicting the crime. Read on…
Meanwhile – being in the right place at the right time – enables Virgil to become an eager assistant to an alcoholic Romanian film director (Allan Corduner) and, later, he’s the cameraman assigned to chronicle the re-enactment which is supervised by bumbling bureaucrats.
Exhibiting remarkable camaraderie, the intrepid Rosenthal gang, as they’re called, consists of Max (Mark Strong), the chief police inspector; Alice (Vera Farmiga), a political-science academic; Iorgu (Christian McKay), a history professor; Dumi (Tim Plester), a rocket scientist; and Razvan (Joe Armstrong), a respected journalist.
But what prompted them to steal bags of banknotes that were worthless outside of Romania? Was it a Zionist plot that failed? Was it a conspiracy to get money to send Jews to Israel? Why did they commit such a heinous crime – one they realized would inevitably lead to the death penalty?
Eventually, only Virgil will know the real answer to these questions, as flashbacks reveal a secret that the Communist authorities never discovered.
Based on a true story, the provocative, darkly comedic, absurdist drama is cleverly written and boldly directed by Nae Caranfil, who has chosen to have the cast – energetically propelled by Farmiga and Strong – speak English instead of Romanian.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Closer to the Moon” is a fascinating 7 – with glimpses of the real documentary over the closing credits.