Digital tools allow filmmakers to adjust their work down to the pixel so that there’s no mistake that can’t be fixed in post-production. Orson Welles described the director’s job as to “preside over accidents,” though perhaps today it would be better to define it as deciding which accidents to preserve or erase in post. Such absolute control over the material can be paralyzing, and provides the subject for Corneliu Poromboiu’s When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism, which screened at the Toronto Film Festival after premiering in Locarno. An analytical artist who finds humor in the slipperiness of language, Porumboiu in Metabolism puts his own process under the microscope.
His stand-in is Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache), who starts a fling with a supporting actress in his film, Alina (Diana Avramut). Her role is about to wrap, so he decides to add a dramatic nude scene for her. He soon becomes obsessed with perfecting this short sequence, painstakingly eliminating every “unrealistic” element until it is centered on Alina drying her hair for 10 minutes. Early on, Paul compares the built-in limits of film, having to express a thought in one 11-minute reel, versus the almost unlimited potential of digital. He’s hoping to shrink the borders of his creativity and pare down the decisions he’ll have to make. A neurotic perfectionist, he struggles to contain his anxieties, and soon he hopes his faked ulcer (to postpone shooting) turns into a real one. Poromboiu shoots this crisis in opposition to Paul’s desires, in long sequence shots that elongate time and expand the performative options of his actors. Paul gets stuck in these long takes, deploying his obsessively logical mind toward explaining the existential import of cutlery rather than to the mounting problems of his oft-delayed production.
Porumboiu has named Hong Sang-soo as one of his major influences, and the Korean master of drunken indolence returns to TIFF this year with Our Sunhi, his own tale of indecision. An archetypal Hong tale of fumbling males, it circles around Sunhi (Jung Yu-mi), an errant film student who returns to her college campus to request a reference letter from Professor Choi (Kim Sang-joong). Her sudden appearance triggers the libidos of the Professor, Sunhi’s ex-flame Munsu (Lee Sun-kyun) and fellow filmmaker Jaehak (Jung Jae-young). Hong rearranges the four corners of this lust-rectangle in a series of increasingly hilarious repetitions, as Sunhi plays with their pliable emotions. It’s remarkable how Hong turns Munsu’s banal sentiment of “digging deep” into a touching statement of self-actualization, as the term passes through the three men, and then out of Sunhi’s lips, as she passes out of their lives.
Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay is also about the manipulation of language, a screwball comedy about a speechwriter for France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs during the run up to the Iraq war. Tavernier treats the material, adapted from a graphic novel by Antonin Baudry, as a live-action cartoon, with the Minister (an uproarious Thierry Lamitte) blazing through halls like the Road Runner to the speechwriter’s stunned Wile E. Coyote. A pseudo-intellectual who highlights instead of reads, the Minister (based on Dominique de Villepin) is the hot-air spouting head of a team of overworked advisors, held together by a narcoleptic chief of staff. Tavernier keeps things zipping along, with breathless dialogue close to matching the land-speed record set by His Girl Friday.