I learned a valuable lesson about movies during my formative years, while sinking deep into productions by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni or Andrei Tarkovski. A good movie provides answers to complex situations, while a great movie is a riddle leaving you – often frustratingly, but always spiritually rewarding – with questions that you carry outside of the theatre.
One Floor Below – which had its North American premiere at TIFF on Saturday 12 September 2015 (a second screening is on Monday 14 Sep at 8:45 AM at the AGO), also bringing Romanian director Radu Muntean for the first time in Toronto – is of the latter type.
Here is what happened last night.
“One Floor Below” – brought to North America by Film Boutique and distributed in Canada by Films We Like – was warmly introduced in front of a full house by TIFF’s Director of Film Programmes, Jesse Wente. Jesse came back from Cannes 2015 last May with two favourite movies, one being Munteanu’s:
Here are some inspired notes by @JesseWente on the movie’s TIFF page, followed by Radu Muntean’s Q&A session after the movie.
An expertly executed slow-burn thriller reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below resists simple characterizations and motivations in favour of complex and opaque behaviour. Why does Sandu withhold information? Who is he protecting: Vali or himself? What could he be hiding? The film asks all of these questions and more, but allows us to find the answers for ourselves.
Like many of his Romanian filmmaker contemporaries, Muntean has a penchant for the depiction of mundane bureaucracy. In One Floor Below he uses it to heighten suspense, establishing the sense that the everyday could give way to explosive violence. One can’t help but see the film as a comment on post-Ceausescu Romania, with Sandu embodying a national distrust of authority, but it also speaks to more general cultural attitudes towards privacy and social responsibility. These themes are perfectly embodied in Corban’s wonderfully restrained performance as Sandu, a man whose daily deadpan façade occasionally lifts to give a brief glimpse of what simmers beneath.