Monday, March 17, 2014

Film Review: When Evening Falls On Bucharest or Metabolism

"When Evening Falls On Bucharest"  ** (out of ****)

Language. It is a very important thing. The words we chose to express ourselves. Words have multiple meaning. Our understanding of words have a direct impact on how we communicate with others. Why do we chose the words we do?

These are some of the thoughts you may have as you watch the latest Romanian film from director Corneliu Porumboiu, which premiered in Chicago at the 17th annual European Union Film Festival.

We follow a film director, Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) and an actress, Alina (Diana Auramut) as they prepare for shooting on a film. They are also sleeping together. This is the first time Paul has slept with an actress in one of his movies but not the first time Alina has slept with a director she has worked with.

In the first scene of the film we see these two driving in Paul's car, immediately invoking the work of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, as they discuss the future of movies. Paul feels movies as we know it will change. Especially given the switch from film stock to digital. Alina tries to keep up with his logic.

Another scene deals with them in a Chinese restaurant as they discuss how the use of chop sticks has directly impacted Chinese cuisine. For example, Chinese food does not consist of T-bone steaks and roasted chicken. Why? Because how could they eat that with chop sticks. Again, Alina tries to keep up with his logic.

Scenes such as these comprise the majority of this 90 minute movie.

Director Porumboiu seems fascinated with deconstructing language and habits. Challenging our memories and perception. He makes us question things we take for granted. This was seen in his first two feature films, "12:08 East of Bucharest" (2007) and "Police, Adjective" (2009).

The problem I have with "When Evening Falls On Bucharest" (Cand se lasa seara peste Bucuresti sau metabolism, 2014) is everything it does Porumboiu already did in "Police, Adjective" and much better. That movie had more humor and a more interesting plot, dealing with a cop reluctant to arrest some pot smoking kids, since the laws will change soon in Romania. "When Evening Falls" doesn't have enough of a plot to sustain it for 90 minutes. At best, you could have made a nice 20-30 minute short film. The scene in the Chinese restaurant perfectly illustrates what the movie is about. That scene within it itself is its own little movie.

The movie sometimes hints at something more. Is it a romance between these two characters? The movie suggest Alina may have a boyfriend and is cheating on him with Paul. We suspect Paul believes this to be true as well as Alina is always on the phone explaining where she is. But there is no confrontation about this.

When Porumboiu first came to my attention with "12:08 East of Bucharest" I instantly became a fan. I saw that movie at the Chicago International Film Festival and felt it was a great political satire. I enjoyed it so much I even placed it on my top ten list for 2007. Police, Adjective" didn't excitement as much but I thought it was a worthwhile effort. "When Evening Falls" didn't need to be made. And that's unfortunate. Porumboiu is a talented filmmaker. He has a unique perspective. It is too bad he used so much energy to create this movie (hence the meaning of the word metabolism). We know he is capable of more.

One telling sign about the film was a group of people sitting in front of me walked out of the movie after roughly 45 minutes. And honestly it didn't matter. After watching 45 minutes of this movie you get the basic idea. You don't need to stick around for the end because nothing different or new is being said.