A Tarantino-tinged love story plunging US up-and-coming actors Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood into the Bucharest underworld dazzled the Berlin film festival Saturday.
"The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" by first-time feature director Fredrik Bond drew savage reviews after screening at last month's Sundance festival but appeared to win over the more international audience in Berlin, where it drew enthusiastic applause.
The Swedish-born Bond, a successful commercial and music video director, lets his slick style shine through in the tale of US backpacker and hopeless romantic Charlie (LaBeouf), smitten at first sight with a Romanian cellist (Wood).
But Wood's Gabi has just lost her father, who happened to die while sitting next to Charlie on the plane, and is still entangled in a marriage with the brutal gangster Nigel played by Denmark's Mads Mikkelsen ("Casino Royale").
Charlie, whose own mother (Oscar winner Melissa Leo) has just died, lets his infatuation with Gabi draw him ever deeper into Nigel's ultraviolent milieu, in a bid to rescue her and give their budding romance a chance.
German star Til Schweiger ("Inglourious Basterds") enters the picture as Darko, the owner of a strip club who is on the hunt for an incriminating videotape he believes Gabi is holding.
Meanwhile Charlie meets up at a youth hostel with two British party animals including the ecstasy-addled Karl -- ginger-haired Rupert Grint from the "Harry Potter" movies -- who hopes to make a start in the eastern European porn industry with a character called Boris Pecker.
A gravel-voiced narration by English actor John Hurt gives Charlie's quest a mythical quality Bond said he had sought.
The director said he took inspiration from Quentin Tarantino scripts such as "Pulp Fiction" and "True Romance" that could pivot from humour to horror and back again, with a tender love story at the heart of the action.
The picture also drew comparisons with Emir Kusturica's Balkan romps.
Bond said the rollicking mix of cultures on screen and on set had appealed to him, as well as a chance to show off one of eastern Europe's most beautiful cities that is still off the beaten tourist track.
"I felt like Bucharest had something that was quite similar to the characters Charlie and Gabi," he said. "It's kind of a broken city that has gone through a lot of abuse."
Bond said a scouting trip through eastern Europe led him to zero in on the city.
"Everything from all the wild dogs on the streets to people's hardened personalities..." he said.
"They're very tough in Romania... there's a sense of protection I think because they've been exposed to dictators and so forth. But once you get to know them they're the most dedicated, amazing, lovely people, very much like Gabi's character."
Grint said the film offered a chance for him to play against type after spending most of his adolescence with the Harry Potter franchise.
"It's refreshing to be on a new set after playing the same character for 11 years," he said. "Drugs were a big part of my character. It was kind of something new for me to explore, it was so much fun."
"The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman" is one of 19 films vying for the Golden and Silver Bear top prizes at the 63rd Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year.