SFIFF57 Report: Corneliu Porumboiu’s “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism”

wheneveningfive-starsCornelius Porumboiu‘s third film is a fine addition to his oeuvre, following the very funny 12:08 East of Bucharest and sparsely poignant Police, Adjective.

If there is any one word one can say in regards to “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism” it would be subtext. If you are to read a description of this film, chances are it will go something like this: “A director and his actress prepare for a nude scene they are to shoot.” This is misleading, and, as in his other films, the plot is really not the point, but rather a shell for the subtext to thrive within. The film is actually about an affair, and about the moral implications, the inner emotional and conscious struggle.

Every moment of the film is dripping with this emotional subtext. The dinner scenes (which, as an aside, once again demonstrate the intimacy the director and actors can provide the viewer through actually eating), for instance, demonstrate this both blatantly and quietly, with symbolism, i.e. chopsticks versus forks and knives, and tone, such as the director’s confident conversing in the first dinner and insecure conversing in the second. Sometimes the subtext is purely in the acting, such as when the director is directing her in increasingly impatient, arbitrary ways at a certain point in their “relationship”; or else it may be palpable, such as a long shot of a car ride in which they talk about obviously insignificant matters (as we all want to do) while her telephone rings over and over. If there was, finally, any doubt left, it is eliminated by the constant focus on their relationship, but never actually revealing it in the film, and then finally having the director eliminate her role in the scene within the film within the film.

This film within a film concept is also novel. Granted, the idea of a self-aware work of art, especially in cinema, is by no means new, as when one considers it one must nod to 8 1/2 and Adaptation, for instance. In “When Evening Falls”, this structural tactic is done in a much softer, quieter way, primarily to emphasize and solidify the emotional subtext. From the very first shot we are introduced to this self-awareness in the director’s explanation for his use of film rather than digital, that being if he removed the confines of the long take limited to 11 minutes into the infinite take digital can offer, he would lose his sense of understanding of the language of cinema. This is a nod to his own use of long takes, as the average take in this film is very likely at least five to ten minutes, and the scene in question is no exception.

WHEN_EVENING_FALLS_ON_BUCHAREST_03

But the crowning example is that of the nude scene being done in the film in reversed roles: after watching him painfully explain to her how what she was doing was not what he wanted for an extended amount of time, we cut to her naked on the bed. She receives a phone call, and dresses and walks into the next room, answering it and lying to the male voice interrogating from the receiver, shutting the door. The director gets out of the shower, and, action by action, plays out the role honestly which they tried so strenuously to choreograph in the scene before. The symbolic behaviors which he explained to her are performed by him (clothes as armor, for instance) in an incredibly poignant moment of self-awareness. That is to say, the director was not self-aware in the film, but, if you could for a moment grant the film a sense of artistic consciousness, you would see that the film is self-aware. The effect is to double the subtext as a double boiler may, bringing it bubbling to the top.

It is always a privilege to see new works from this unique filmmaker within this unique group of Romanian directors. Be prepared for long takes, little to no exposition, little camera movement (like Cristi Puiu, Porumboiu prefers a fixed tripod to the flowing movement of Cristian Mungiu), and very intense, realistic acting.

Overall a beautiful, poignant, human experience. Well worth a view.

Remaining showtimes for When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism:
Monday, April 28th 8:30pm (Pacific Film Archive)

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Categories: Reviews, Romanian Cinema, San Francisco International Film Festival

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  1. A Basic Guide to Filmmakers of the Romanian New Wave | Filmbalaya.com - May 4, 2014

    […] Full review of When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism here: http://filmbalaya.com/2014/04/27/sfiff57-report-when-evening-falls-on-bucharest-or-metabolism/ […]

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