When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

Corneliu Porumboiu

BY Robert BellPublished Sep 22, 2013

Just as he did with the deconstructionist, grammatically preoccupied Police, Adjective, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu continues to analyze the relationship between text, interpretation and culture with When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, considering the various signifiers that go into an assessment and understanding. Syntax and the specificity of language are still very much his focus with this seemingly banal love story, but his interest here is specifically the construction of cinema and the presumably incidental details and minor considerations that comprise it as a whole.

Early on, it's established that Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache), a director wrapping up his latest project, is protracting the production—faking an ulcer—to spend time with (and fornicate with) his leading actress, Alina (Diana Avramut). Our introduction to their relationship isn't about romance or the expository details of the relationship; rather, it's an extended conversation about the limitations of film stock—no more than eleven minutes can be filmed in a single take—establishing the basic composition of modern cinema, as seen in a single extended shot from the back seat of a car (reminiscent of the works of Abbas Kiarostami).

Since every scene proceeding nearly reaches the eleven minute mark, working as a simple, reductionist vision of introductory mise-en-scene, only occasionally featuring minor camera movement amidst extended stationary takes, there's consciousness of the language being used to communicate a cinematic idea.

Once Paul and Alina discuss the rationale for having actors do something—like eat, get dressed or drive a car—in scenes with little activity otherwise, making dynamic or metaphorical actions versus words, there's a similar consciousness of Porumboiu's preoccupation with having the actors eat meals or rehearse scenes from their movie repetitively while conversing. Even the discussion about nudity—whether or not it will have a dramatic purpose and whether clothing represents a subconscious need for armour—becomes a self-conscious act when Alina appears naked on a bed, putting on a t-shirt before answering the phone. Since so much effort has been made to remind us of action as metaphor, the introduction of the t-shirt into the dialogue suggests an antagonist relationship between Alina and the person on the phone.

These external, secondary relationships are never given a great deal of context and ultimately become puzzles unto themselves, stemming from the minor observations and reactions evident while Paul and Alina chat about the importance of having cinematic historical context to interpret and appreciate modern works. Their opinions always differ, suggesting an inherent power imbalance in their relationship, which is later analyzed when the sexual relationship between a director and a leading actress is demystified and qualified as an act of mutual insecurity and an expression of one's need for validation.

As a story unto itself, removed from the imposed structure of self-conscious analysis and audience manipulation, there's very little about When Evening Falls that compels in a traditional sense. Porumboiu's distancing technique, forcing audience awareness of their own relationship with the text, adding layers of complication by considering the relationship between director and screenwriter or producer and director, is an act of edification. It's just unfortunate that, outside of Romania, those that might benefit from a lesson in the importance of historical context and cinematic deconstruction would never bother to watch a subtitled Romanian art film.
(42 Km Film)

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