A Dream's Merchant

A Dream's Merchant


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

We can’t go anywhere, it seems, without wanting others to know – and nobody can go anywhere without us knowing. Not only is it a small world; I travel, therefore I am. How, then, does one make a cinematic travelogue that happens to be original at a time in which, for better or worse, travel is so in vogue that one can make Tweets and Facebook status-updates geo-specific (as if doing so adds some kind of validation to the information being shared)?

One answer might be to mimic in some way the distance travelled, perhaps by making your resulting document longer than usual. Another might be to personalise your journey by articulating the anecdotes collected over its course. Another still, of course, might be to document your journey as inexhaustibly as possible, in a world whose every corner presents another photographic opportunity. Arriving at the lower budgetary end of the Romanian New Wave, Bogdan Ilie-Michu’s A Dream’s Merchant combines all three of these approaches: it is long and demanding, it is intimate and heartfelt, and it is largely limited to still photographs.

Merchant gathers and documents a journey undertaken at the tail end of 2009 to Mongolia and back again, by Romanian Mihai Barbu, “that boy who left home with Doyle to see a bit of this world”. Doyle is an anthropomorphised motorcycle, treated like some loyal steed, and this humblest of voyages is in many ways an intimate epic of self- and mutual-discovery – we warm to this inanimate vehicle as we might a dog, while voice-over narration complements the pictorial record of the route, interspersed with reflective interviews with Barbu and his mother. We hear stories of police corruption, unlikely bonds and the culinary delights of faeces-filled goat bowels.

As is revealed late in the film, Barbu’s adventure was made financially feasible when he asked friends and strangers alike to advance-purchase pockets of his itinerary in return for a personal letter from that very place. Consisting entirely of extracts presumably read verbatim from these letters, A Dream’s Merchant’s voice-over is read by actor Ionut Kivu, whose palpable remove from events lends a sense of dislocation to the narrative. Similarly – and crucially, perhaps – Barbu’s many photographs are often scanned and zoomed-in upon by Ilie-Michu’s own camera, which draws attention to the flattened nature of photographic record. Denying such spatial engagement in this TripAdvisor Age, the optical manipulations and the immobile compositions paradoxically make for infectious encouragement to travel. DIY sensibilities and free-spirit undertones on display in A Dream’s Merchant appear to be uniquely and strangely archaic. And all the better for it.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2013
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This true-life 'Motorcycle Diary' recounts the epic trek of genial, thirtyish photographer Mihai Barbu as he rumbles to the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator - and back.

Director: Bogdan Ilie-Micu

Writer: Mihai Barbu, Bogdan Ilie-Micu

Starring: Mihai Barbu, Ionut Kivu

Year: 2012

Runtime: 172 minutes

Country: Romania


Bradford 2013

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