Real. Radu Muntean. Romania. 2021. 104 min.
Romanian cinema takes a trip to the dark woods of Unequal by Radu Muntean, a New Wave mainstay in the country. After titles like Tuesday after Christmas (2010) and Alice T. (2018), Muntean arrives at Directors’ Fortnight with a road movie – or rather a muddy one – that teases us with the possibility of it becoming a survival drama or movie. Witch Blaircooler style. Instead, Muntean leads us into a playful and caustic realm of social satire, as his characters find themselves in uncharted territory with no GPS or a clear moral compass. This striking variation on the foundational aesthetic of New Wave character-based realism is expected to have modest commercial prospects, but will be rock solid at festivals.
A sober but spicy debate on social responsibility
While some filmmakers in the country have recently embarked on very divergent experimental directions, Integral shows that there is still new energy to be extracted from the familiar mode of Romanian realism – although, far from being conventional narrative, Unequal repeatedly pulls the carpet from under the feet of viewers. It focuses on a group of urban professionals who set off in SUVs every year as volunteer workers, bringing aid supplies to rural areas. The film begins with them loading in a warehouse, before hitting the road in various formations, a group starting a discussion on the ethics of giving a young village woman the gift of an electronic tablet – the problem being, according to one woman, that such largesse can create unrealistic expectations.
A woman, Maria (Maria Popistasu, a regular at Muntean) decides not to ride with the couple Cristina and Radu (the latter played by the director) and instead joins Ilinca (Ilona Brezoianu) and Dan (Alex Bogdan) in the Dan’s car, which Ilinca agreed to buy from him – much of the humor to come is Dan’s sensitivity to the condition of his vehicle, doomed to have more than a few scratches.
Heading to a village called Intregalde, somewhere in the densely forested hills, travelers alternate thorny banter and gossip about their private lives – played acutely by the main trio, with a lively improvisational feel. Then they see an old man walking resolutely towards who knows where; Hearing his confused story about a nearby sawmill, they drove him away. The old man, Kente – fragile, bony, apparently as old as the surrounding terrain around them – chattering in a foghorn voice. A star actor from the moment he first appeared, Luca Sabin – a stranger among professional actors – seems to be quite the real thing.
After dropping it off, the car gets stuck on a muddy road. After side trips to get help, the trio get stuck in the middle of the night, the temperature dropping rapidly. But it turns out that Kente is in even greater need of help, and Maria insists that she and her companions must help him – which they do at certain risks and inconveniences.
As Kente and his living conditions became the focus of the film, Unequal has evolved into a low-key but stinging debate about social responsibility – on questions about the need for intervention to help others, but also about how such action can sometimes serve primarily to reassure benefactors of their own. moral virtue.
In an era when documentary makers are increasingly preoccupied with ethical issues, the film’s quasi-documentary visual style – the DoP is Tudor Vladimir Panduru, whose credits include Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation – reinforces this dimension of the debate. Indeed, Maria and her companions can be seen as substitutes for the very team making this film, the idea of filmmakers exploring isolated rural cultures taking on a highly ironic dimension. This is all the more evident as, as one witty script suggests, the group sees the world primarily through their own media perspective – dubbing Kente ‘Forrest Gump’ and comparing a village woman with a heavily bandaged arm. to the comic character Hellboy.
While some striking rural landscapes near the beginning are reminiscent of landscapes from Iranian films like Kiarostami’s ‘Koker Trilogy’, an increasingly claustrophobic style sees the forest closing in on the characters, who end up crammed into the car like a cave. – or explore the forest at night, a remarkable shot showing them as distant figures climbing a hill, lit only by their flashlights. While Muntean vividly evokes the urgency of their fate, the dramatic danger is not this Unequal is really about. A Kente-centric coda shows us something about the life of this man and his community that, we realize urban travelers to Muntean may not have the time or the mindset to really experience. – largely a case of not seeing wood for trees.
Production companies: Multimedia Est, East Company Productions
International sales: Voodoo Films, [email protected]
Producer: Dragos Vilcu
Screenplay: Radu Muntean, Razvan Radulescu, Alexandru Baciu
Photography: Tudor Vladimir Panduru
Publisher: Andu Rudu
Graphic design: Anca Lazar
Main actors: Maria Popistasu, Ilona Brezoianu, Alex Bogdan, Luca Sabin