One Floor Below

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

One Floor Below (Un Etaj Mai Jos), directed by Radu Muntean
"Deftly scripted, subtle and challenging, this is a film which reminds us why Muntean is such an important contributor to the Romanian New Wave."

Sandu (Teodor Corban) leads a busy life. He and his wife run their own business, dealing with car numberplates; they're raising a spirited teenage nerd; they have a handsome dog, Jerry, who participates in shows; he cares for his elderly mother and in his free time he watches the football with his friends. he just doesn't have the time to get involved in anybody else's business. But one day, when he's bringing Jerry home from the park where they've both been trying to lose a bit of weight, he overhears a nasty sounding argument in a neighbouring flat. It's the home of a young student. Seeing another neighbour, Vali (Iulian Postelnicu) emerge from the flat, he's embarrassed and hurries up the stairs. Not long afterwards, he learns that the student has been killed.

The rest of the film hinges on a single decision. When interviewed by the police, Sandu chooses not to mention the fight. In fact, he doesn't mention that his neighbours knew each other at all. Is it simply that he's a Romanian of a certain age and still habitually thinks of the police as the enemy? Is it that he feels an instinctive bond with another working class man in trouble? Or does he simply not want anything to complicate his life? Whatever is the case, it's a fateful choice. Vali is intrigued by it and tries to get close to him to find out what's going on; Sandu doesn't want this polite but persistent man around his family. Over time, the pressure on him increases along with his worry, irritation and guilt.

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As in Muntean's previous work, the focus here is on the prosaic; the central story arc emerges in little details, revealed through the way that Sandu and Vali react to the people and objects around them. Sandu grows increasingly impatient with male attitudes to women, suggesting that he's become sensitive to something he never noticed before. He's disturbed by his son's interest in the murder and tries to shelter him from it. Day to day concerns keep him moving, keep him busy, but the presence of Vali keeps interrupting his attempts to return to the way things were. Something's got to give.

Deftly scripted, subtle and challenging, this is a film which reminds us why Muntean is such an important contributor to the Romanian New Wave. The naturalism of the performances he elicits forces us to confront murder as a fact of life, as something terrifyingly ordinary. If you're expecting a detective-driven crime thriller, this is not for you, but if you're prepared to ponder realistically on how you might respond to something similar, you'll find this intriguing.

Reviewed on: 30 Jan 2016
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One Floor Below packshot
A witness to a crime is faced with a philosophical dilemma.

Director: Radu Muntean

Writer: Alexandru Baciu, Radu Muntean, Razvan Radulescu

Starring: Teodor Corban, Iulian Postelnicu, Tatiana Iekel, Ionut Bora

Year: 2015

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Romania


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