Thursday, January 08, 2015

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism: The Film so Nice They Named it Twice

As one frustrated Romanian filmmaker explains, the physical practicalities of film rolls used to impose eleven minute limits per take. For some members of the Romanian New Wave, such constraints were a blessing. Indeed, Corneliu Porumbiu will never exceed the eleven minute barrier for any of the eighteen cuts in When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (trailer here), his 35mm meditation on the coming digital era, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Production on Paul’s latest film has been a little rocky. He has substantially rewritten many scenes at the last minute to greater feature Alina, a supporting player whom he has started sleeping with. In addition, he suspects his ulcers have returned and his hard-charging producer constantly busts his chops. As a result, Paul becomes listless and somewhat withdrawn, aside from sex and a series of awkward cigarette and coffee-fueled conversations with Alina.

In a sense, Metabolism is the Day for Night of slow cinema. While staying true to Porumbiu’s severe style, it shows true affection for raggedy, put-upon filmmakers. Its purity is admirable, but it still suffers from the lack of a peppy Georges Delerue score. Still, it delivers some pointed insights into the filmmaking process and Porumbiu even offers slyly veiled criticism of himself in the final scene, but Metabolism remains the exclusive terrain of cineastes who enjoy talky films but cannot take the breakneck pace of My Dinner with Andre.

It is safe to find Metabolism glacially paced and static looking, but Porumbiu still controls the tone quite masterfully. It looks like Bucharest is a perennially nocturnal city, where there is much drinking going on, yet it is always eerily quiet. Viewers get a nostalgic sense of the “Wild East” days on the immediate post-Soviet era, but with a distinctly depressive Romanian twist.

In her feature debut, Diana Avrǎmuţ’s icy reserve and brittle vulnerability suggest she could become the Anna Karina of the Romanian Wave (or a Monica Vitti, whom several characters compare her Aline with). Bogdan Dumitrache also makes Paul feel highly flawed and relatively real, charting a middle course between black jeans wearing hipster and schlubby loser.

Although Paul’s thoughts on cinema are clearly informed by Porumbiu’s experiences, Metabolism’s analysis of Asian cuisine actually falls wide of the mark, confusing the westernized innovations documented in The Search for General Tso for the real McCoy. Somehow, that really doesn’t matter. It is the ambiance and Porumbiu’s underlying aesthetic approach that define Metabolism. The former is strangely effective, in a grungy sort of way, while the latter is what it is. Recommended mostly for ardent admirers of the Romanian New Wave and Slow Cinema, When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism opens tomorrow (1/9) in New York, at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center.