When Evening Falls on Bucharest Or Metabolism: Not Quite Jim Jarmusch

C+ Drama

Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

May 12, 2016: I wrote this review in 2014, on the assumption that this film would get a theatrical release in the Bay Area (it had screened in that year’s San Francisco International Film Festival). The release never happened. However, on discovering that this film is available on just about every streaming service–including free on Youtube–I figured it was passed time to publish my review.

Early in this extremely low-key exercise about a film director and an actress, the director character explains the chief advantage of shooting digitally: You can run a scene for 30 minutes or more, while film can only record for eleven minutes before you have to reload the camera. That initially struck me as odd; you can easily cover a 30-minute scene with film by using multiple shots. But as I watched the movie, it became clear that the real director, Corneliu Porumboiu, never ever cuts within a scene. His fictitious alter ego clearly feels the same way.

When Evening Falls has the matter-of-fact look and feel of early Jim Jarmusch–with the camera just sitting there and recording what’s going on in front of it. I don’t believe there’s a single cut within a scene. And most of those one-shot scenes use a completely static camera. Sometimes a scene ends, and the camera stays on, facing a wall or parking space for several seconds for no apparent reason before finally cutting to something else.

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Unfortunately, Porumboiu lacks Jarmusch’s wit and sense of character. What goes on in front of the camera is rarely more than moderately interesting.

The two lead characters are lovers as well as artistic collaborators. They talk about their pasts, their work, their health (well, his health), and the movie they’re making. Actually, they talk very little about the movie–we never really find out what it’s about. They talk about staging an upcoming nude scene. The director (working, like Porumboiu, from his own screenplay) doesn’t appear to have thought out the issues of why she’s naked and how she can overhear a conversation in the next room.

According to the dialog, they’re actually in the middle of shooting the film. There’s even talk of them falling behind schedule due to the director’s stomach problems. But there’s no sense of the busy urgency that’s an inevitable part of film production. We seldom see anyone other than the two leads, and never see more than four people in a scene. We often watch these two calmly eating dinner in a nice restaurant.Only in the last scene do we see them actually shooting film.

Like his camera, Porumboiu seems to hold his two characters at arm’s length. Bits and pieces about them come through. The director tends to ignore health issues and lies about them. The actress comes from the stage, knows nothing about cinema, but understands director/actress romances better than he does.

Slowly, and seemingly almost by accident, you get to know a bit about these two. But you don’t get to know much about them. And besides, they just don’t seem all that interesting.