The live and death that are right next to us: “One floor below” - film review
by Magda Mihăilescu
Out of our filmmakers that defined the New Wave, Radu Muntean is, at least at this point, the most constant in securing and exploiting his territory. Together with his long-term co-writers, Răzvan Rădulescu and Alexandru Baciu, he moves freely, not at all seduced by formal researches. But there is so much freshness of the emotion in this digging inwards! |Towards the depth of the most mundane reality and no less, of his own stylistic formula. Less noisy than his colleagues as famous as himself, definitely not interested in catching anyone`s eye, Muntean had - at least in Cannes - , the critique on his side, the most consistent, careful and noncomplaisant one. The generous spaces offered to his films on the pages of the important French newspapers (never hidden in some page corner)are a good proof for that. He really deserves his place and for sure he would have fully deserved to be selected in the main festival competition, but that`s another story.
Watching One floor below again after 4 months, it forced me somehow, even more persistently, to take into consideration the confidence with which this film sets itself in a kind of an architecture of mea nings which is already easily recognizable for the author. Starting from the title, Tuesday after Christmas was indicating more than just the time frame. The days when the action takes place are not just ordinary days. In this film, the time reference is replaced with suggesting the distance. The drama happens “one floor below”, a few times we can hear lines spoken from off-screen. They come from a distance, from beyond the frame limit. And this happens from the beginning of the film, with that gentle “Come to daddy!” said to the dog. We witness what happens, but at the same time, not really.
Just like for Pătrașcu (Teodor Corban), the main character, for whom the distance will be an alibi in his trying to ease his conscience of a person who passed right by somebody`s death with his head buried in the sand. The ambiguity is possible. Of course, it`s not a proper thing to stick your nose in someone else`s business. But when you get to find out something about a person gone missing and you keep quiet, that is not about being discreet and polite. One day, going up the stairs to his apartment, the man gets to hear, from behind the door, his neighbor, Laura, screaming as if in the middle of a domestic fight and he even gets to see another neighbor, dashing out of her door, young Vali (Iulian Postelnicu) about whom we`ll find out later that he`s married to another woman. They exchanged looks for a split second and that would change their lives for ever.
With all the pretense quietness of the first one, actually more of a restlessness that is very hard to cover and with all the impertinence of the latter who finds a strategy to enter Pătrașcu`s world, pretending to help his son with some internet problems, just like a close friend of the family would do, the following days would not bring anything else but an increasing tension: of suspicion, of cowardice, of plain fright. The aggressed woman, the neighbor from the floor below has died. Murder, accident? From that moment on, the reiterative mundane gestures that we all abide to without thinking too much, because as one character says at one point (far from being academically wise)“life is also made of things like this”, will be undermined by doubt, by a hard to bear shadow of guilt.Pătrașcu goes on with his daily routine of his small business of cars registration, he fusses about things just as much as before, doesn`t forget to walk his dog, leaves home, then comes back home where his loving wife waits for him. She`s very caring indeed, but she`s not skillful enough to decode her husband`s looks.
From this point onward, the whole film actually happen in Teodor Corban`s eyes, which are subtly marked by the effort of staying the same, of not betraying anything, maybe also for the sake of protecting his family: during the small interrogatory of the investigator (“no, he didn`t hear, he didn`t see anything suspect”), in his relationship with the clients or in the episode of the old mother`s visit and especially in his relationship with his son, the only one who seems to be interested in finding out things about the missing woman. The neighbor, a strange woman, used to have a Facebook account, so she did exist, right?! The distance, again the distance which this time is the one of the internet. The awful intrusion of the modern technology in the human relationships: it brings her close. Some critics saw One floor below as a hitchcockian film.
The persistence of some kind of suspense floating on the surface - apparently not too much troubled - of the action, may leave this impression. But we can`t feel, as in the maestro`s works, “the ticking of the bomb” metaphorically speaking, which will explode for sure, but we don`t know when. We have been trained to wait for the feast breathlessly. But if we are keen on putting the film in one category, I would rather say, on the contrary, that is an anti-thriller, where the tension is ripped off by the rhythms of the daily routine that swallows everything. The authors allow themselves a little game with the viewer, letting him/her believe at one point that the hero that we see looking for a policeman will confess something. Nothing happens, it`s just a short visit paid to an old friend, with no consequences whatsoever. Could there have been some other intention there?
The sequence may be understood as a postponing of the confrontation between the two (Pătrașcu–the witness and Vali–the presumed suspect) that bursts paradoxically, after the latter touches off an argument withPătrașcu because of feeling stirred upand because he couldn`t cope with the fear and insecurity anymore: “Why don`t you say something? Tell me! Do you want me to go and turn you in?” Twisted psychologyof the challenge lived by the young man as a liberation. A fight, an usual coming back home of the protagonist with a few wounds, that the wife took care of with what she could find in the fridge and use instead of ice. The domestic ridicule at its best. Life goes on. For sure, the next day the man will tenderly walk his dog again. Somebody else will not sleep soundly, his son. His nightmare, hard to explain in the narrative structure of the film if it was added as a possible indirect punishment of the father, is out of the psychological code of the film so well kept until that moment: to keep the audience at a simmer.
Imagine: Dan Țuculescu