Corneliu Porumboiu

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.3 Police Adjective (2009)
7.2 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006)
6.6 When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013)
7.2 The Treasure (2015)
7.2 Whistlers (2019)

Corneliu Porumboiu (Romania, 1975) debuted with Visul lui Liviu/ Liviu's Dream (2002).

A Fost Sau N-a Fost?/ Was There or Wasn't There?/ 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) photographed by Marius Panduru, is a comedy, almost a slapstick, that questions the mythological status that historical events tend to assume, and, in particular, questions who truly participated in the revolution (not only celebrated after it had already happened) and who benefited (the teacher who was a protester ended up a penniless drunk while the former security agent is now a capitalist). There are three revolutions: the intellectual one (represented by the teacher who risked his life), the domestic one (represented by the old man who joined the protesters only when it was safe to do so without risking anything), and the false one (represented by the former communist who simply transitioned to capitalist). The journalist who is supposed to find out the truth is a parody himself because he has no skills and doesn't sound like he was there at all (since he's asking others about what happened). History is a comedy, not a tragedy. The film begins and ends with footage of the empty streets of the town, estrangement a` la Brecht.

It is three days from Christmas in a provincial town. Virgil, the host of a local TV station, calls Virgil, a man who just woke up with a hangover after a night of drinking. Virgil is getting ready at home. He calls two people who are supposed to be interviewed on his show about the revolution that took place exactly 16 years earlier, but neither picks up the phone. Meanwhile, an older man, Piscoci, prepares to watch the show on an old TV set that doesn't work. The announcer announces Virgil's show about the 16th anniversary of the revolution. The teacher, Manescu, is getting ready to go to school, where he teaches. The night before he came home drunk and doesn't even remember what he did. His wife threatens to tell Ana that he got drunk and demands that he gives her the salary that he will be paid at work. A mother with a little girl visits Piscoci and asks him to impersonate Santa Claus, something for which he used to be famous in town. The teacher walks towards his school and stops by the bar to pay the bill. The bartender tells him that he bought drinks for everybody and the bill is quite steep. He promises to pay with the salary that he is about to get. Virgil invites Piscoci on the program to replace the one who is flaking out. The teacher has to take care of a classroom of kids who failed the exam on the Ottoman Empire. A fellow teacher comes asking for the money he owes him. The teacher promises to pay in a few hours. Virgil walks into the studio where a band is playing folk music. Piscoci is shopping for a Santa Claus costume. The teacher gets paid and has to pay a line of creditors. Virgil is having an affair with his assistant, Vali, who upsets him telling him that she will spend New Year's Eve with her sister, which means that he will not have any help at the TV station. The teacher, now broke again, borrows money from Chen, a Chinese who runs the general store and sells firecrackers to kids. Virgil picks up Piscoci and Manescu and drives them to the studio. He introduces the theme of the show: was there a revolution in that town, or did people only come out to celebrate when the revolution had already ended? Virgil first interviews Manescu, while Piscoci kills time building a ship with a piece of paper. Manescu claims that he and three other teachers started protesting in the main square and were attacked by security agents led by a Bejan. A caller, however, says that Manescu and friends were drunk. Another caller says that he was the sentry of that day and didn't see the four teachers. Manescu asks him questions and shows that he is not a credible witness because he left his sentry post to go to the market. Manescu claims that he and his friends hid in the sentry box to protect themselves from Bejan's security agents. The sentry insists that nobody was protesting in the square until after the TV showed the dictator flying away in a helicopter. The next caller is Bejan, the securiy officer. He calmly states that he will sue the station if they insist in insulting him: he was merely an accountant and is now an entrepreneur, owner of three factories. He denies being in the square that day. Virgil now addresses Manescu and tells him that three people contradict his claim to have started the revolution in their town before the dictator surrendered. Manescu is annoyed and wants to leave, but then stays. Another caller says that Manescu was not there. Then Chen calls: he was in Egypt that day but wants to say that Manescu is an honest man. He upsets Virgil who insults him and tells him to go back to China. Piscoci goes on a lengthy ramble while fidgeting with the paper ship: how went to the square after seeing on TV that the revolution had been won. The mother of one of the victims of the revolution calls: she just wants to wish everybody a merry Christmas. The show ends and the trio leaves. The cameraman turns off the lights in the studio. It is snowing outside and someone is filming the empty streets, and the main square that lights up.

Politist Adjectiv/ Police Adjective (2009), photographed by Marius Panduru, filmed in a sparse documentary style and set in a desolate urban landscape, is the mundane story of a crisis of conscience. Placed in the context of detective and noir films, this film is the drama of a cop who is not allowed to do the cop. All he can do is waste his time and his talent pursuing a pointless case against someone who constitutes no threat to society. None of the usual traits of detective films is present: no shootouts, no car chases, no interrogations, in fact neither violence nor suspense. The filmmaker makes sure that we perceive the protagonist's waste of time by wasting our time in lengthy takes about irrelevant facts. This cop's job is neither glamorous nor corrupt, the two classic themes of detective films, both of which (despite being opposites) express the fact that the cop has no conscience, just a practical mission. This is, instead, a case of conscience by a citizen who ponders about his role in society, and therefore there is no need for an archenemy or a horrible crime. His real job, the job he invents for himself, is the job of critizing the mindless bureaucracy that turns real lives into mere linguistic affairs (his reports, his captain's definitions). This is Kafka who refuses to live in an absurd Kafkian world. There are two metaphors for this. The first one is the high-tech computer monitor in the cop's home that contrasts with the stone-age computer monitor in his office (bureaucracy is stuck in an age that doesn't exist anymore while ordinary people have moved on). The second one is the very tool that the superior uses to fight the cop's conscience: an old-fashioned paper vocabulary. Unlike Ionesco, who would have represented the senseless rules of society with a senseless story, this director uses the barest os realistic techniques and therefore enhances the awareness of the absurd. The only problem with this poignant drama is that the rhythm of the film is really slow.

The country has a draconian law against drug use, even if the drugs are harmless drugs like marijuana. An undercover detective, Cristi, who has just returned from his honeymoon abroad, is assigned the case of a kid, Victor, who smokes marijuana. The detective has evidence that would send the kid to jail for years but, knowing that in most countries abroad this is a trivial offense, is reluctant to carry out the arrest. The country's laws are obsolete and will soon change and he doesn't want to ruin the life of a kid for a law that will change soon.
The one who informed the police about Victor is actually one of Victor's friends, Alex. Cristi is suspicious of the motives of this kid for betraying is friend and so he follows him home. Alex lives in a nice, recently remodeled house, a sign of wealth, and quite a difference from the working-class look of Victor (and of Cristi himself). Cristi waits outside and sees Victor's girlfriend arrive. When she leaves, Cristi starts following her. It's a long walk to a different, much poorer, part of town. Back home, his wife Anca is watching a video of a pop song on the computer's screen. They are a semiotic discussion on words and images as symbols. She is the highly educated one, he objects with common sense. The following day he completes the procedure for filing his report on the case. He is avoiding his captain because he senses that the captain will ask him to carry out the arrest. Cristi's last hope is to draw attention to what could be a much bigger danger to the public: the dealer who brings the dope from abroad. In his report he thus emphasizes that the girl's brother, Iulian, who travels abroad all the time, could be the source of the drugs. His wife has read the report and, over lunch, tells him that he made a grammatical mistake, a highly technical issue that he can't even understand. She is a teacher in the same high school where Victor and Alex go.. He is surprised to learn that there is an academy specifically to decide what is grammatically correct. As he waits for the meeting with his captain, Cristi is pensive and insecure. The captain reads the report and orders him to arrest Victor. Cristi protests that the kid would be unfairly punished while letting the dealer get away, and that there is something suspicious about the fact that Alex squealed on his friend. The captain responds by asking him to write down his definition of conscience: Cristi writes that it's about not doing something that one will regret later. Then the captain asks his secretary to bring a vocabulary and tells Cristi to read the definitions of "conscience". He can now compare his own definition and the one in the vocabulary: they are wildly different. Then the captain asks him to read the definition of "law" and explains that in order to avoid chaos the state make laws, otherwise each person would have her or his own laws. And cops are there to enforce the law. The captain, playing psychologist, tells Cristi that he has forgotten what he is: he is a police officer, who has to enforce the law. Cristi realizes that he has not choice but to do his job.

Cand se Lasa Seara Peste Bucuresti sau Metabolism / When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013)

Comoara/ The Treasure (2015) is a surrealistic farce reminiscent of the Czech madcap social comedies of Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel but reinforced by a lightweight satire of Romania's own destiny. The decrepit house is in itself a metaphoric historical journey into Romania's national history and psyche because it has changed function over time depending on who was running the country. It is also the fairy tale of a frustrated middle-aged married man and government worker who suddenly can escape his boring routine with an exciting adventure. The mythological dimension of the Robin Hood legend that his son is just beginning to learn becomes reality for the father.

Costi is a devout father who reads "Robin Hood" to his little son. One day his neighbor Adrian comes to ask for money. He is late in his mortgage payments and his business has been ruined by the economic crisis. Costi honestly cannot help because he himself can barely make ends meet. Adrian comes back telling him that his rich great-grandfather, when the communist revolution started, hid a treasure that was never found and, now that Adrian has got back the property after the anti-communist revolution, he offers Costi half of it if they find it. The money that Adrian needs is to rent a metal detactor. Costi's wife is neither enthralled nor hostile to the idea. Meanwhile, Costi's son has a problem: a bully keeps hitting him. Costi cannot afford the professional metal detector but the amateur Cornel offers to help him for half the price. The professional, however, warns him that any ancient item must be reported to the authorities and the finders are entitled only to 30% of its value. Adrian is ready to cheat the system but Costi goes along with the plan only after Adrian accepts to respect the law. Costi needs an excuse to leave work. It turns out that his boss thinks that Costi is having an affair with his colleague Liliana. This is not true but Costi finds it convenient to admit that he does have an affair with another woman because he senses the boss is going to support his extramarital affair as a kind of manly thing to do. Costi and Adrian drive to the old country home and are joined by Cornel. Cornel brings two metal detectors but doesn't seem to know how to operate them. One is connected to a computer and creates a three-dimensional map of the underground. The other one is a traditional one that beeps all the time: either too sensitive or simply worn out. Cornel maps the territory and marks where the duo should dig. They pick a promising site and start digging. It gets dark and they are still digging. The metal detector keeps beeping in the same point. Adrian loses his patience and starts accusing Cornel of being incompetent. Cornel packs his metal detectors and leaves after being paid by Costi. Costi keeps digging, even when the hole is taller than him. Just when Adrian has lost faith and is telling Costi to give up, Costi finds a metal box. They cannot open it with their tools and plan to ask for the help of a professional thief, Lica. They load the box in the car and are about to leave the house when a police car pulls in. It is the middle of the night. Someone must have told the police that they were looking for a treasure. Costi, scared, immediately tells the police that they found a treasure and that they were about to deliver it to the police as the law mandates. The police is not any luckier than them in opening the box so they call the thief. The thief takes a while but finally the box is open and inside there is indeed a treasure: German stock certificates worth a fortune. What they didn't expect is that the treasure dates from the year of the fall of communism, not from the great-grandfather's time. Adrian has no idea who could have buried that treasure: the house was a strip-bar in those days. And the good news is that it is German stuff, which is not subject to confiscation by the government. The police gives them back the box and they sell the shares. Costi invests a lot of money into jewels and brings them to his son, who is dreaming of a Robin Hood-kind of treasure. The child and other children take all the jewels and start arguing.

La Gomera/ Whistlers (2019) is a fast-paced action movie, a cross between a gangster movie, a film noir and a romantic comedy that incorporates stereotypes of old Hollywood movies the way the French nouvelle vague (particularly Godard) was doing in the 1960s; an ironic tribute to film noir, western movies and Alfred Hitchcock, with scenes in a movie theater and in an abandoned movie set plus several scenes in which someone is watching an old movie. The characters are all stereotyped, from the currupt cop to the Orson Welles-ian mobster, with even a femme fatale called Gilda (Rita Hayworth's most famous role). The plot is full of double-crossings that create a labirynthine story. The leitmotif of ubiquitous surveillance links the generation of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation with the generation of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, and his existential criminals behave like in movies of the 1930s but have poses worthy of Quentin Tarantino's films. It is not clear how it fits in the story, but the film clearly mocks famous operas and classical music in general. The film is a post-modernist collage of styles that is both funny, irreverent and exuberant.

A middle-aged Romanian man arrives by ferry at the Spanish island of La Gomera. A driver picks him up after telling him to turn off the phone because the police may be listening on them. He takes him to a secluded villa where he is welcomed by a beautiful young Romanian woman. She tells him to forget what happened back home because she did it only for the surveillance cameras. A flashback shows them back home when she approached him in a square. He is Cristi, a police investigator. She is Gilda, the girlfriend of Zsolt. He told her that he was being followed, and she kissed him to make the followers believe that they were lovers. She asked him to help her free Zsolt but he refused. He warned her that there were surveillance cameras in his home. She offered him ferry and flight tickets to the Spanish island but he refused. She then gave him money so he could pay her in front of the cameras, thus simulating a sexual encounter with a high-class prostitute. A man watched them on camera as they made love for real. She then slipped the envelop with the tickets under his body. Seduced, he accepted and is now at the island. The driver, Kiko, explains that the locals use a secret whistling code to communicate. Cristi tells him that the Romanian police was tipped back home by an anonymous woman that Zsolt, a rich businessman, was involved in drug trafficking and that a huge sum of money was hidden in his factory. Cristi was placed in charge of the investigation. The flashback shows us him taking a room in a hotel (whose owner played loud opera music, "Casta Diva" from Bellini's "Norma") and receiving the visit of a man working for Zsolt who paid him for the information that the police was watching Zsolt's factory: Cristi is a Zsolt mole in the police department. Cristi's unscrupulous female chief Magda asked an agent to plant cocaine in Zsolt's hotel room and asked Cristi to find a drug dealer willing to testify that he sold the drug to Zsolt so that the following morning they could arrest him. Cristi refused and warned the other agent that he was risking jail by doing something illegal. During the arrest they found a murdered man but not the money. Chief Magda interrogated Zsolt and we see that he is the same man who visited Cristi at the hotel. Back to the present, Kiko, based on Cristi's account, guesses that the woman, Gilda, is the one who made the anonymous call because she was the only one to know about the money. He points a gun at Gilda's head and she confesses that she and Zsolt wanted to run away with the money, and that Zsolt and another man killed Kiko's friend Ortiz, but she claims that she doesn't know where the money is now. Cristi then meets with Paco, the gang's boss, who tells him how important it is for him to free Zsolt from prison. Kiko tries to have sex with Gilda but she refuses. He then tells her that he's going to tell Paco about her and Szolt. Gilda, on the other hand, tells Cristi that Paco and she visited his (Cristi's) mother. They have sex and, when she falls asleep, Cristi steals her car keys. As he drives away in the dark, Paco's men stop him and kidnap him. Kiko then tortures him in the sea and they lock him up. Another gangster teaches him how to say "mama" in the whistling language. A flashback shows that your mother found a huge sum of money that Cristi had hidden away. Thinking he had stolen it, she donated it to the church. She told him how disappointed she was that he became a crook. The police learned of the unusual donation and started following him and placed cameras in his apartment. Now we know why there were cameras. Meanwhile, Chief Magda showed him the photo of the last car to leave the factory before the arrest, presumably the car with the money. Surprisingly, Magda also told him that she knew that he worked for Zsolt, that he was a mole in the police department. Back to the present, Paco tells Cristi that he intends to kill Szolt for trying to run away with his money and still hasn't decided what to do with Gilda. Paco gives Cristi a vial of poison and asks Cristi to give it to Szolt: the poison won't kill him but will get him to a hospital where they can kidnap him. He offers money to Cristi and Cristi for Gilda's freedom instead of the money. They will communicate via whistling: Cristi will whistle messages in Romanian to Gilda, place somewhere else, and she will whistle them in Spanish to Kiko, and he will whistle them to Paco. They send him back to Romania, where Chief Magda in person checks his behavior on the surveillance cameras. He asks her for a private meeting at a movie theater. Cristi offers Magda a deal: the money that Szolt is hiding in return for Gilda's and his own freedom and safety. He tells Magda that he is sure that he can get Szolt to surrender the money because the alternative is getting killed by Paco's men. He tells Magda what Paco's plan is to get hold of Szolt. Szolt accepts to collaborate. Magda takes Cristi and Szolt to an abandoned movie set and instructs Szolt to tell the gangsters that he buried the money there. The following morning Cristi gives Szolt the vial, Szolt falls sick, an ambulance takes him to the hospital. The gangsters pick him up and release Gilda. Cristi's police partner Alin, who is watching the hospital on the surveillance camera, sees Cristi and Gilda speak briefly. He follows Gilda as she walks into the opera hotel and then phones Chief Magda to inform her. It is getting night. She is preparing the ambush at the movie set with dozens of armed agents. Szolt leads the gangsters in the trap. When they realize that Szolt betrayed them, Kiko kills Szolt but the cops kill all of them. Cristi runs away in the dark just when Magda orders his arrest. Meanwhile, at the hotel Cristi's police partner Alin complains about the loud opera music (Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann") and the hotel owner... slits his throat! The hotel owner then enters Gilda's room and walks towards the shower lifting the knife (in a scene copied from Hitchcock's Psycho) but she shows up behind him holding a gun. It turns out that the money is hidden in two mattresses of the hotel room. They take one mattress each. Meanwhile, Cristi is running through the forest. He sees a car coming and tries to stop it: it's one of the cops, who instead accelerates and runs him over. Some time later, Gilda visits Cristi's mom who has put the house for sale, pretending to be interested in buying it but actually just to find out Cristi's whereabouts. After the accident Cristi can't speak anymore and they think he went mad because every now and then he whistles. His mother is selling the house to take him to a foreign clinic. She also tells Gilda that the police is still guarding them, and in fact Magda is in the house right then. Gilda drives away but Magda, guessing who the visitor was, follows her to the clinic's gardens, from where Gilda whistles to Cristi and Cristi replies from the window of his room. Outside the clinic the two women point a gun to each other. Then we hear gunshots while Cristi is taken by a nurse inside his room to watch an old movie where a shootout is taking place. Some time later, Cristi is walking in the crowd at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay while a light-show is going on with loud music (Orff's "Carmina Burana", Strauss and Tchaikovsky waltzes) and meets Gilda. They stare at each other without speaking (while the music morphs into Offenbach's "Galop infernal", the "French can-can").
(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )