Film Review – When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
Making movies is a wonderful creative process. A group of people coming together to make one singular piece of art is a fascinating way to explore the possibilities of imagination. What some viewers may not realize is that it can also be difficult, tedious, and repetitive. Constant rehearsals, finding the right locations, setting up lighting, blocking out scenes – so much work goes into the making of a film. Something that’s only an hour and half long could take weeks, even months to complete, and that’s if you have enough money to do so. I once read a director saying that shooting an action scene (which are usually thrilling to audiences) was also the most boring, because it took an unbelievable amount of time to set up shots that only get a few minutes in the final cut.
I sense that is what Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu was going for with When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013). Instead of glamorizing the filmmaking process, Porumboiu is striving for a sense of reality. We never see the characters filming a scene – rather we watch them between those moments where they discuss character motivations, the sequence of events that happen within a scene, and the random topics that come up when everyone waits for the next opportunity to shoot. There’s an early conversation where a character talks about the benefit of shooting long takes, and how that approach provides a closer glimpse into real life. That’s precisely what Porumboiu tries to give us here.
There is no standard plot. Through the course of the film, we focus mainly on writer/director Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) and his leading actress Alina (Diana Avramut) while in their latest production. Paul and Alina spend most of the time in discussion, usually regarding Alina’s character but also about other unrelated subjects. The main point involves a nude scene for Alina’s character. They talk about the necessity of the nudity, and the process of the scene to make it natural. In two extended scenes, we watch Alina and Paul rehearse over and over again, stopping and starting with questions and suggestions. We realize how difficult it is for a director and actor to be on the same page for a scene to work, if there’s any hesitation or doubt, the whole thing could fall apart.
When they’re not talking about the film, Paul and Alina talk about other things. The two share a sexual relationship that may or may not last through the duration of the shoot. They talk more than they have sex. In the car, having dinner, sharing a cigarette, walking on the street, etc. They talk about the sophistication between Chinese and French cuisine, the differences between shooting on film and on digital cameras, movies versus theater, Alina’s resemblance to Italian actress Monica Vitti, and Paul’s love for Michelangelo Antonioni. Just about every scene has two characters in dialogue, and Porumboiu always shoots them in medium two shots. The only time Porumboiu chooses to cut is when he transitions into the next scene.
I can appreciate what Porumboiu is trying to do. He attempts to strip his given profession down to its core essence, revealing the nuts and bolts that go into filmmaking. The minimalist approach he goes with will not be for everyone, however. While all of the performers succeed at maintaining this even-keeled tone, the methodical way things are presented will appeal to those who are patient enough to go with it. Certain scenes drift on past where we thought it would end, and Porumboiu isn’t afraid to linger on a shot for as long as he so desires. Clearly he is reaching for a level of realism, but at what point does the film suffer for the sake of realism? In one scene, the camera shows a monitor displaying an endoscopy being performed. This shot is held for what feels like minutes on end. I gather this is meant to reflect the realism Porumboiu is trying to capture, but when does the realism happen? After one minute? Two? Why tackle this theme in a fictional work instead of in a documentary?
I step away from When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism with more questions than answers. Maybe that’s what Porumboiu wanted in the first place, to have us rethink the notion of storytelling and challenge the barriers between fantasy and reality. Or maybe this just flew right over my head. There are things to admire here, but the slow, meandering style required effort to stay engaged. The themes it brings up will entice debate afterward, there’s no denying that. Those that go and see it will most likely be prone to enjoy it anyway, and more power to them. I wish I could say the same, but in the end, I confess this wasn’t really my cup of tea.