Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 26, 2023 12:43 pm 
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Love in a time of repression

Romanian director Alxandru Belc is willing to go all the way with his swoony deep-saturated cinematography of a 1972 Bucarest teenage party, and it works. Making superb use of the most passionate American music of the time, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, he lets the intense closeups of a hopeless young couple play out in a long, frustrated sigh, out into the gloomy night where suspicious figures loom in corners: they are representatives of the secret police and this is the time of Nicolae Ceaușescu's dictatorship. Partying to the tunes of Radio Free Europe, dancing passionately, wearing long hair are subversive acts, not to mention the political jokes that start off the evening, still less the seriously compromising letter of dedication to the radio program most of the youths have signed. Belc has also gathered a group of young actors styled for the era and equally go-for-broke in their identification with these sweet, doomed youths.

At the center of them is the slippery, long-nosed, smiling Sorin (Serban Lazarovici), who doesn't show up for the party, and then he does. Ana (Mara Bugarin), who's been waiting, longing, goes into a room with him, makes out, gets naked, declares her love over and over. They kiss and kiss, and then - he suddenly leaves. (Later we learn why.) The long dreamy sequence wonderfully captures the devastation brought about by his inexplicable behavior. After a dramatic kiss in a square with a triumphal statue and celestial lens flare, Ana has earlier learned Sorin and his family are leaving for a safer life in Germany. The party is given at the sumptuous home of Ana’s friend Roxana (Mara Vicol). Ana has put on a purple dress of Roxana's to seduce or dissuade Sorin from departing.

Half of this film is a visual and sound poem about teen spirit and doomed teen love intimately shot with shoulder camera, but the other half depicts the tarnished experience of life and love in a world of specific 1970's Romanian government menace. The images are drowning in intensity and seem doomed, yet linger unwilling to depart. The Academy Ratio, emphasizing intensity and confinement, and the saturated reds steep them in a painterly quality, a reverence. The fundamental beauty and success of the film is the spirit and ensemble acting of the young cast in the party, and the long dance sequence, which reminded me of a famous one in Phiippe Garrel's long and overwhelmingly stylish 2005 film Regular Lovers. But these aren't effete French youths: they're children of the Communist Bloc for whom dedication to "Light My Fire" and listening to the decadent radio program "Metronom" are brave declarations of freedom. (Local cult star Mircea Floria is also featured.) And this time the topic of frustrated, caring, defiant love so confidently embodied by Mara Bugarin against the capriciousness (and emerging betrayal) of boyfriend Lazarovici is inseparable from our gathering sense of the captivity of youth in an authoritarian regime, and the way the secret police's petty manipulation and threats play out. (The theme of bargaining and manipulation for favor and advancement throughout iron curtain bureaucracies we have seen before. This film is more notable for its period flavor than for its originality.)

In the police sessions the poetry vanishes . Ana is the most resistant to capitulating, the most ambiguous. (Were she not, the film would have no center, no interest.) She decides to spend some of Sorin's last minutes in Romania with him, but it's more a quick coupling than an idyll. In the main part of the second half of the film Ana has come up against threatening Securitate officer Biris (Vlad Ivanov) as the tension and her emotions mount with the film - and a sense of grim hopelessness and indifference. Her defiance is out of loyalty to her friends rather than political passion. She's young, like Juliet, ready to dedicate all yet still in some ways barely more than a child with developed breasts. It's impossible to separate the girl's passion from politics, as inherent to her separation from Sorin that there's a brutal regime in charge as the feud of the Montagues and Capulets is to Shakespeare's tragedy. But here it's not a sword fight. It's an interrogation as long as the party, Belc each time letting things play out, confident that what he does matters. And the romance is subjugated by desperate political necessity.

Belc has been admired for his documentaries and shorts that, according to Nikki Baughan of ScreenDaily, already blended "the socio-political and the cinematic," his way of working in this admirable feature debut.

Metronom/Radio Metronom, 102 mins., Debuted at Cannes May 24, 2022, where it won Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section. It has been shown at over two dozen international festivals. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films, presented by MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center (Mar. 29-Apr. 9, 2023).

Sunday, April 2
8:45pm, FLC Walter Reade Theater (Q&A with Alexandru Belc)
Tuesday, April 4
6pm, MoMA T2 (Q&A with Alexandru Belc)

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