TIFF Romania Review: Deja Vu (2013)

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Cast: Ioana Flora, Mirela Oprisor, Gabriel Sandu
Director: Dan Chisu
Country: Romania
Genre: Drama
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for the 12th Annual Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information on Déjà Vu visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @TIFFromania.

One of the most promising of Romania’s “second tier” of filmmakers, as it were—his works have yet to achieve the attention of the likes of Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, or Radu Muntean—Dan Chisu has proved himself every bit as adept and versatile a director as his most famous countrymen. His feature debut was 2010’s WebSiteStory, a fine start for any director, and one of the more interesting cinematic looks at the impact of emergent technology on contemporary youth. He has followed that film steadily with a new one each year, from the excellent The Bear to the well-received Chasing Rainbows to his latest, Déjà Vu.

The POV shot, especially when extended to lengths as extensive as here, is very much a double-edged sword: for all the ostensible realism it adds through the faithful representation of human perspective, it also draws attention to its own abstraction, as in those shots where the camera turns to the floor rather than gaze into a mirror and reveal itself

deja_vu_2013_3Wisely continuing to stretch himself as a storyteller, Chisu makes of this new movie one quite unlike any of his priors, some technical parallels to WebSiteStory aside. Aptly named, Déjà Vu focuses on a day in the life of the recently-separated Mihai as he travels with his now live-in mistress to the airport for a vacation. Boldly shot almost entirely without cuts from a head-mounted camera, the film efforts to literally align our perspective with Mihai’s, now and then making us privy to his experience of the titular phenomenon with cutaway shots to half-remembered days past with his wife. It’s a fascinating way to shoot a film, a fitting new direction for a director as diverse as this to take.

The POV shot, especially when extended to lengths as extensive as here, is very much a double-edged sword: for all the ostensible realism it adds through the faithful representation of human perspective, it also draws attention to its own abstraction, as in those shots where the camera turns to the floor rather than gaze into a mirror and reveal itself. There’s a clumsiness to such instances that Chisu is powerless to avoid, though for the most part he does remarkably well in making a case for the artistic potential of what might easily be dismissed a gimmick. A large portion of the film is spent in transit on highways and country roads—even once incorporating the car being pulled over by a patrolman—with Chisu maintaining his shots for staggering lengths of time. There’s a great deal of technical virtuosity here, some sneaky hidden cuts in the vein of Hitchcock’s Rope aside, and credit must be afforded the performers for their success in crafting this illusion of reality.

This is the essence of Déjà Vu—the film and phenomenon both—dislocating our consciousness and casting us adrift on the tides of our recollection, unable to discern between past and present, unable to decide on which side the grass is greener.

deja_vu_2013_2Ioana Flora, playing the mistress on whom the camera—and through it Mihai’s gaze, and ours—is trained, has experience working in this way courtesy of 2008’s Hooked, which alternated POV shots between its characters. That stands as a fine example of how not to use the technique, more intriguing therein than it is beneficial, adding less thematically than it does on a superficial aesthetic level. Chisu is a better filmmaker than that, and the manner in which he shapes the film with editor Florian Ardelean is testament to the fascinating intent behind his implementation of this peculiar shooting style. As the film cuts between a shot of Flora and another, almost identical, of Mirela Oprisor as Mihai’s wife, we are treated to an elliptical expression of the particularities of memory, which only grows in its engrossing quality as the film progresses and memory and reality become less and less distinct. This is the essence of Déjà Vu—the film and phenomenon both—dislocating our consciousness and casting us adrift on the tides of our recollection, unable to discern between past and present, unable to decide on which side the grass is greener.

Chisu has turned the tricky POV effect to an impressive exploitation of his ideas with Déjà Vu, though for all the success of his experimentation the film remains, to some degree, just that: ideas. The interweaving imagery of past and present makes fascinating the final act, but the lead-in to that—the time spent developing the aesthetic and establishing the basic narrative framework—is less arresting, perhaps chiefly courtesy of the poorly-written protagonist. He, reflected primarily through the dialogue of his respective partners rather than his own, is a hard creation to care for, and thus a hard perspective to relate our own to. In his visual craft and the inventiveness of his chief conceit, Chisu has made good on his intent to study the intricacies of memory and regret by way of the cinema screen. He has forgotten, in the process, to make his story distinct.

[notification type=”star”]65/100 ~ OKAY. Chisu has turned the tricky POV effect to an impressive exploitation of his ideas with Déjà Vu, though for all the success of his experimentation the film remains, to some degree, just that: ideas.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.