Something to Chew On: When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

12/31/2014 9:00 AM |
Photo Courtesy of Cinema Guild

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Opens January 9 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu has followed up Police, Adjective—a hit on the festival circuit and with critics, if not American audiences—with a far more oblique film, albeit one just as obsessed with language. Dividing its eighty-four minutes into eighteen shots, most of the film consists of conversations between two people, taken from a fixed camera. There are three scenes in cars, in which we get to see little besides the backs of the characters’ heads. This backstage drama makes Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore look as glamorous as an Entourage episode.

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism takes place during a film shoot. Director Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) tries to talk actress Alina (Diana Avramut) into appearing in a nude scene in the opening car ride. Then he goes on to discuss the implications of the 11-minute running time of a 35mm film reel. Actual filmmaking is never shown, just rehearsals, conversations and bits of business. Paul reveals himself to be a lecher and a liar, although compared to the real-life Fassbinder, much less Roman Polanski, he’s not that bad a person.

The film is uneven but often fascinating. Its extreme talkiness sometimes hampers it. A scene where Paul and Alina discuss the intricacies of how she should get dressed becomes interminable. However, the conversations are always relevant to filmmaking, even when they don’t appear to have any direct connection.When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism is preoccupied by the switch from celluloid to video, although Paul only brings it up directly once. A discussion between Paul and Alina about the relative sophistication of Asian, Arab and European cuisine gets into the pressures form—in this case, utensils like forks and chopsticks—puts upon content. Its characters are in the business of creating fantasy; Porumboiu manages to give the illusion we’re watching reality pass by. It may not appear to have an obvious link to his subsequent documentary, The Second Game (in which he recorded himself and his father watching a snowy VHS tape of a soccer game), but both films are concerned with the possibility of capturing life, with or without artifice.