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'Waiting for August' is a telling doc about today's Romania

'Waiting for August' is a telling doc about today's Romania
A scene from "Waiting for August." (Handout)

Exploring economic migration from the point of view of children, "Waiting for August" is an impressive, if muted, debut documentary. Teodora Ana Mihai uses direct cinema — eschewing explanatory narration or titles — to spend several months among siblings who stay in Romania while their mother works as a domestic in Italy. No big dramatic moments arise, but telling details abound.

A playful introductory scene displays a knack for storytelling: While preparing supper, a teenage girl calls her brothers and sisters to the phone to speak to their mother, and as they appear in the kitchen one by one, it unfolds that the girl is the de facto head of a household consisting of seven kids.

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The teenage girl is Georgiana, just turning 15. Mihai's fly-on-the-wall chronicle captures the family's bonds, but only Georgiana comes fully into focus. Her older brother plays video games while she cleans, cooks, maintains the budget, gets the younger kids to school, serves as taskmaster and disciplinarian, and attends classes herself, preparing for the test that will determine her high school options. Somehow she has a social life too. When she cries to her mother, it's over teenage trials and tribulations, not the job with which she's been tasked.

The children, whose father is never mentioned, count the Skype sessions and money transfers until their mother's return in summer. In an offhand exchange, the younger kids listen to a description of the Ceausescu era that suggests deprivation is a thing of the past, even as economic circumstances require parents to leave their families to support them.

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"Waiting for August"

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles.

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