Arts Review, Movies
Radu Muntean, director & co-script w/Alexandru Baciu & Razvan Raadulescu
Starring: Teodor Corban (Sandu Patrascu), Iulian Postelnicu (Vali Dima), Ionut Bora (Matei Patrascu), Oxana Moravec (Olga Patrascu)
A moody character study that masquerades as a thriller, One Floor Below is a very well made Romanian New Wave film, directed by one of the genre’s masters, Radu Muntean. Like his previous international art house successes The Paper Will Be Blue, Boogie and Tuesday, after Christmas, Muntean’s new film is a minimalist downbeat exploration of life in post-Ceausescu Romania. His realist style and languid pacing, like those of his contemporaries Cristian Mungiu and Cristian Piui, offers an almost documentary feel to his dramas.
Certainly One Floor Below starts off like a doc. Sandu Patrascu is off on an early morning run with his dog, Jerry. We see him chatting with people in the park, patting other dogs and genuinely enjoying the day before returning to the apartment building, where he lives. Then, events begin to become more dramatic.
Sandu overhears a heated argument in the apartment one floor below him. A man emerges, whom Sandu recognizes; it’s Vali, another neighbour in the building, who happens to be married. Later in the day, when Sandu returns from his day as a car registry “fixer,” he discovers that Laura, the girl who was arguing with Vali, is dead—apparently murdered.
While the police interrogate people in the building, we see more of Sandu’s home life. He’s a bit over-weight, which is causing his wife Olga to help him with a diet. Their relationship feels equal—and that feeling is reinforced by the fact that they’re running the car registry business together. Sandu also gets along great with his son Matei, though like every teenager, the lad would rather play video games than spend time with his parents.
When the police finally knock on Sandu’s door and ask questions about Laura, the woman who died one floor below them, you expect Sandu to implicate Vali. But he doesn’t.
The next day, Vali begins to enter Sandu’s life in an apparently friendly but quite intrusive fashion. He asks Sandu to help him with some issues around his car. When Sandu comes home, he finds Vali eating cabbage soup, having helped Matei with computer problems. Sandu is clearly uncomfortable—and so is the viewer. What will happen next?
One Floor Below eventually moves to a somewhat evasive conclusion. What’s interesting about the film are the issues that are raised by the story. We never know why Sandu refuses to reveal his suspicions about Vali’s role in the death of Laura.
What does become clear is that you can’t walk away from encounters. By not naming Vali, Sandu finds himself stuck in an absurd and awkward situation with a man he suspects of murder.
Why doesn’t Sandu name Vali right away to the police? What makes a good citizen in Romania today?
One Floor Below quietly asks many questions about character and society. It’s a thoughtful and intriguing film—and another international success for Muntean.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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