Falling into the category of if it didn’t really happen then you wouldn’t believe it’s true is the film Closer to the Moon. When the audience is presented with the caption ‘based on the incredible true story’ there is a certain wariness as often the truth is far removed from what eventually comes to the screen. In this case, it appears to be authentic.
The film is the story of a bank heist that is disguised as a film shoot. In the late Nineteen Fifties, Romania it was not a good time to be Jewish. Many of the people involved in the resistance during the second world war rose to positions of power once the Soviets took over the country. Eventually they started to remove these people as the grip of Moscow became ever tighter for the satellite states surrounding Russia. One disaffected group decided to take a stand. Over the course of an evening of celebration five friends concoct a plan to engage in a robbery of the Romanian national bank under the guise of shooting the scene from a film. They want to do this not as a means to gain wealth but as a way of protesting against the state. They are caught after the event, tried and sentenced to death. In order to set an example to others they are forced to make a film showing how they planned and executed the robbery.
For something that covers some weighty themes this is a very easy film to view. This is down to the key elements all being executed very well. For a start there is a carefree and comedic edge to the storytelling that at times distracts you from the fact that the main characters will be facing a firing squad at the end of the film. The story points out the absurdity of the situation the protagonists find themselves in more than once and you can’t help but smile at the frankly daft antics.
The look of the film lends itself to this end as well. Everything is brightly lit and the sets are fresh and clean looking. Almost the ideal of a communist society as seen through the lens of a propaganda machine. It is not until we get under the surface gloss we see the problems that are occurring. The systematic purging of the Jewish citizens from the upper echelons is done quietly and without protest lest the authorities turn their attention to other groups.
The film demonstrates the importance of working together and taking a stand for what you believe in. Their objective was to highlight the issues in the society and the imbalance that many felt in a country where everyone was expected to be the same. To rise and express your thoughts was not encouraged and the participants knew what the outcome would be.
Prior to viewing the film I was not familiar with the story and the final outcome. This is utilized to great advantage in certain scenes of the film. The audience is led to expect that something will happen like an escape attempt or a shoot out. This of course leads to nought as the aim of the prisoners is not to flee. Even when one of them disappears it is not permanent.
The strong cast keep things rolling along nicely. Mark Strong is considered one of the best British actors working today. He is never anything less than impressive on screen and here is no exception. He is the principal lead and dominates the film with ease. His charm and commanding screen presence allow the actors around him to shine without the burden of carrying the proceedings. This means that Vera Farmiga, Harry Lloyd and Anton Lesser all shine in their supporting roles.
To reinforce the truth of the story, the end credits of the movie feature scenes from the actual propaganda film made by the Soviet authorities. It is a poignant end to a very well made film.