Sunday, March 8, 2015

Film Review: Deja Vu

"Deja Vu"  ** (out of ****)

Locations. Certain locations hold special memories for us. You remember the restaurant you had your first date at. You remember where you were when you had your first fight as a couple. You remember where you were when you proposed.

And those memories stick with us. No matter what happens to the relationship, whether you break-up, divorce, never see the other person again, it doesn't matter. We remember the locations. They leave lasting impressions. That is partially what the Romanian movie "Deja Vu" (2013) is about.

The movie, which played as part of the 18th annual European Union Film Festival in Chicago, follows a married man, Mihai (played by the movie's director, Dan Chisu) who has been having an affair with Tania (Ioana Flora) for the past three years. The movie begins on the morning when Mihai will confront his wife, a television personality, Valeria (Mirela Oprisor) with whom he is currently separated from, along with Tania and officially ask for a divorce.

A majority of the movie takes place in Mihai's car as he and Tania drive to Valeria, who is staying at a lake side house her parent's own. The road to the lake house however is one Mihai and Valeria have driven on before. Mihai associates certain memories of these streets with conversations he had with Valeria. But Valeria is now longer by his side. Now he is with Tania and will have to make new memories.

This is suppose to signify the movie's title, "Deja Vu". Yes, it all seems familiar. Everything looks the same, just as we remembered it but something is different, the person we shared the experience with.

The director, Chisu, has decided to film the entire movie from Mihai's point of view, which means we never see the character's face, only moments of his hands or legs. We see this day through his eyes. Often, when this technique is used its purpose is to help us identify with the character. To put the audience in the character's shoes. To help visually re-enforce the concept the audience is taking on this journey with the lead character. The question is however, was this choice necessary? Could Chisu have told this story without this cinematic gimmick and still have hit on the themes and emotion he hoped for? Personally, I believe he could and the POV becomes distracting. It doesn't add anything to the story.

As a result of this device, nearly the entire movie rest on the shoulder's of Ioana Flora, who is on-screen almost for the entire length of the picture. She is a decent actress and pleasant to look at. Sadly the movie doesn't demand too much from her. As an actress she isn't required to express too much of an emotional range. Not enough is revealed about who she is and what she is doing in a relationship with an older married man.

The other problem with the movie is we don't quite understand Mihai either. Is this drive making him fall in love with his wife again as he recalls their conversations? Maybe. But the movie doesn't have a romantic or nostalgic element to it. Despite putting the viewer in Mihai's shoes he doesn't become relatable or a sympathetic figure. If anything, Tania does because we have seen her on-screen more. By looking at her face the audience can tell what she is thinking. Because we never see Mihai we can't tell what he is thinking. Many times our words don't match our emotions. So, hearing him speak isn't enough in trying to understand what his thoughts are.

And that is the great downfall of an otherwise interesting concept. Everything in "Deja Vu" feels one dimensional. It feels like a one note movie. The characters are not relatable. The movie needed some more human emotion. An element of nostalgia. A better musical score. And to completely skip the POV gimmick.

I have seen one other movie by Chisu, "Chasing Rainbows" (2012), his previous movie which has also shown at the European Union Film Festival. I didn't enjoy that one either because of the characters.

If you want to see a better Romanian movie dealing with a married man cheating on his wife and the implications his decision will have on his life see the magnificent "Tuesday, After Christmas" (Marti dupa craciun, 2010). There is a movie which is able to get tension out of its situation and deal with the characters in a more human and realistic manner.