If we were to attribute specific "roles" to each of the directors revealed by the Romanian "new wave" of consistently solid and intelligent filmmaking, Corneliu Porumboiu might be tagged as "the conceptualist", setting himself a different challenge with each new project while retaining a very wry, deadpan sense of humour. 12:08 East of Bucharest, his 2007 debut, was entirely set in a television studio where host and guests were discussing the day of the downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu; 2009's Police, Adjective was a "grammatical procedural" where morality depended on the meaning of a word.
Now, When Night Falls in Bucharest or Metabolism is a meta-fiction where the future of cinema and a director's affair with his actress collide through a way of approaching and seeing the world that seems to be receding fast. What comes out of this apparently cerebral exercise is a winningly ingenious and insightful tale that works simultaneously in a number of very different layers. Its basic narrative engine is the brief affair between film director Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) and actress Alina (Diana Avrămuț), with a nude scene that he has written for her as peak and centre of their common attraction. A side plot sees Paul tell his harried producer Magda (Mihaela Serbu) that he isn't feeling too well, faking a stomach bug and a hospital trip so he can actually rehearse that scene with Alina.
Over this, Mr. Porumboiu layers a meditation on the intrinsic contemporary nature of film, and the way technology is changing the rhythms and structures of creating a film or setting up a performance. Respecting the Romanian tradition of long takes and absence of music other than within the frame, When Night Falls... has only 17 shots in its entire 90-minute length and starts off with a one-take 11-minute shot, running the length of an actual film roll, following Paul and Alina on a night-time drive around Bucharest discussing analogue vs digital and what films will look like in the future. The gist of the argument is that your idea of cinema changes according to where you come from; used to shooting in film with a big camera for the big screen, Paul says he sees the world through the limits of an 11-minute roll, whereas digital has no limit whatsoever and what people will watch in 50 years will still be called films but will probably be something else we do not know how to describe or to recognise.
As always, Mr. Porumboiu sets himself squarely in the centre of the gulf between thought and action, theory and practice, mind and body: ambiguity and equivocation are central to his films' plots, and language as a revealer and obfuscator plays again an important part, even if here that language is as much verbal as it is visual (but film language is still a language). It's, undoubtedly, a thinkpiece of a film, and a self-referential one at that, but it's hardly austere or dry, preferring instead to use a traditional film narrative as a jumping point into different and intriguing directions.
CÂND SE LASĂ SEARA PESTE BUCUREȘTI SAU METABOLISM
Romania, France 2013
Cast Diana Avrămuț, Bogdan Dumitrache
Director and screenwriter Corneliu Porumboiu; cinematographer Tudor Mircea (colour, widescreen); designer Mihaela Poenaru; costumes Monica Florescu; editor Dana Bunescu; producers Marcela Ursu and Sylvie Pialat; production companies 42KM Film and Les Films du Worso
Screened July 25th 2014, Lisbon (distributor DVD screener)