When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
A director with two weeks left on his latest production fakes an ulcer to pursue a romance with his lead actress.
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★★★★½ review by Joe on Letterboxd
Kind of like a Romanian riff on The Player, opening on an extended backseat take of a director and his not-quite-leading lady discussing the inherent limitations and benefits of film vs digital (film can only shoot for 11 minutes; digital, much longer). Similarly to Police, Adjective I find the style so pleasurable that the seemingly rambling conversations don't even register as remotely boring for me - quite the contrary, in fact, as this is one of the best pictures of a dysfunctional/kind of creepy romantic pairing I've seen since Modern Romance.
Also: Did anyone else notice that in the scene of director and actress repeatedly and tediously going over a scene again and again, the director character looks a lot like the black-turtlenecked Jack Nicholson in The Shining? That's funny, right?
★★★½ review by Kurdt on Letterboxd
More Romanian New Wave goodness. This one though has no political undertones or is even that serious really. It's about a director who's sleeping with his leading lady and is mostly just long takes of them discussing the film, rehearsing, eating dinner. It's mildly amusing, I didn't really laugh but everything is so extraneous that it's almost like Porumboiu made the film just because he could. I actually found the discussions rather interesting, like the opening scene where the director talks about not filming digitally and what he sees movies being in fifty years' time, where the two of them talk about Antonioni and Monica Vitti, and even when they're at a restaurant discussing how much influence chopsticks had on Chinese cuisine. It follows the same structure as most of the films from this movement, and while it examines far less important issues than it's contemporaries, it's still a pretty fun 89 minutes. Sometimes that's all you need.
★★★½ review by Forrest Cardamenis on Letterboxd
Strikes me as a director being critical of himself and the Romanian New Wave without being fully ready to break from it. The low-grade endoscopy video hints at what is to come (Porumboiu's The Second Game is a VHS tape) and hints at that departure, and the ending suggests he is less concerned with his director and the rules than bigger issues of class and gender as they manifest in cinema (The Treasure confirms this).
★★★★ review by Evan Douglas on Letterboxd
Disjointed, translucent, lovely.
★★★★ review by Doug Dibbern on Letterboxd
I have two things I’ve been thinking about re: this movie:
1) Many people say that the artist's “intentions” aren’t important in evaluating a film, but I think this movie is a prime example of why they are paramount. I’m one of those people who think that an author’s intentions don’t exist in the mind before a linguistic (or cinematic) articulation, but instead are only manifested in texts (or films). But how exactly we can discern the director’s attitude about the characters in his film based on the evidence from the audiovisual object has always been a mystery. Especially in this film, which strives for tonal austerity.
I raise the issue of Porumboiu’s attitudes because from the very first shot, this movie is about the power and gender dynamics between a typically Eastern Europe male schlub of a director and his much better-looking lead actress. But I’m not sure to what extent Porumboiu is aware of – and critical of – this dynamic. That is, to what extent is he critical of himself?
This may be one of those instances in which we American liberals tend to politicize gender and sexuality issues more than Europeans, but though I generally prefer the European social-democratic model to the acquiescent politics of American liberals, in this case I think we Americans have a point. In the opening shot, the Porumboiu stand-in seems utterly unaware of this dynamic, mansplaining all sorts of dumb – and not gay-positive enough – shit to her about the inherent ugliness of the male body while she defers to him politely. Later, though, there's a great rehearsal scene in which she brings her own thwarted desire for authorship to the fore, but even there her director seems wholly unaware of the condition he’s put her in.
But, like I said, while I admire the idea of an open text, I wasn’t sure to what extent Porumboiu was criticizing the gender dynamics of the film or to what extent he was merely perpetuating them.
On the one hand, he makes sure to point out that his actress does not even know who Antonioni is, a sure way to elicit groans from his intended audience. One the other hand, the last scene, which passes almost un-noticed, held out some hope: the actress sits in the truck getting her make-up on and mentions in an off-hand way that this is her last day on the shoot, pointing out in a subtle way how she is treated as mere disposable garbage in the making of this film.
2) As with the Muntean, one need only look at the predictable cast of production sources – Eurimages, the European MEDIA program, various French institutes, the Romanian National Center for Cinematography, et al – to see that this movie will gleefully fulfill all of the predictable genre expectations of the contemporary European art film (extreme long takes, dour philosophical discussions, loose narratives, naked women who engage in listless sex, ambiguous endings). And Porumboiu does not disappoint. He’s the most intellectual of the Romanian New Wave, which makes him exciting, but also, admittedly, a bit off-putting. Hitchcock and Welles could be both intellectual and entertaining, but these newer Europeans seem to think that ideas must be portrayed with the same passion as a lesbian vegetarian collective of the 1970s serving up a mound of steamed millet.
The film's strengths – as with POLICE, ADJECTIVE, my favorite of his films, I think – come from the way that he weaves together seemingly arbitrary scenes of senseless dialogue with the larger intellectual concerns of the movie. Thus, in a scene at a Chinese restaurant, the director once again talks at the actress about a pet theory of his: he thinks that the style of Chinese food was dictated by the material form of eating – that is, because the Chinese were already using chopsticks, they had to create food that distanced itself from the physicality of the animal, whereas the French, because they used forks and knives, could serve an entire roast chicken. This scene clearly harkens back to the first, in which the director mansplained to this same actress that the aesthetics of his movies depend on the materials of production: that is, his films would take on a different feel if he shot on film (which has an 11-minute maximum reel for one take) or on digital (which may have 60-minutes or more on tape). But, once Porumboiu has made the seemingly inconsequential appear to be instrumental to the theoretical underpinnings of his film, I searched for the same kind of connections in every seemingly off-hand scene only to end up feeling disappointed (why, for instance, do we watch an entire minute of film through an empty car window after a character has left the frame?).
In short, I'd need to see this film a couple more times to come up with a satisfactory response to these issues, which is precisely what makes Porumboiu an intriguing director. That being said, I’m not sure how eager I am to put in the effort.
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