By Müge Turan
The “New Wave” tag can feel like a little arbitrary, even crude, when applied to the diverse array of recent Romanian films, but it’s interesting to note how frequently the Dostoyevskian themes of morality, guilt, and criminality feature as the central preoccupations of these works. At the core of these narratives lies a memory-based discourse on the relationship between the present and the communist past, and the state of affairs that produced a culture of fear that was, over time, fully absorbed into everyday existence.
Radu Muntean’s latest suggests that we needn’t descend very far down to examine this collective consciousness: One Floor Below is deep enough to yield a serious moral dilemma. Sandu Patrascu (Teodor Corban) is a middleman working as an expediter for automotive registration services. Returning home to his apartment one night, he eavesdrops on a violent argument between his downstairs neighbour Laura and her married boyfriend Vali (Iulian Postelnicu). Laura is found dead the next day, possibly murdered. Sandu doesn’t say a word.
This is an aesthetically minimalistic, meticulously constructed drama. Throughout the film, the camera fixates on the protagonist. We are there with Sandu, this perfectly normal family man, the whole time, yet we can’t be sure why he doesn’t reveal anything. Where does one draw the line with regards to turning a blind eye? Whether regarded as a personal or a societal responsibility, this question is at the heart of the film’s ethical motivation—normal standards of judgment can prove elusive in a grey world filled with latent energies of fear and violence.