Bucharest Non-Stop (2015)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Transilvania International Film Festival. For more information visit http://tiff.ro/en and follow TIFF Romania on Twitter at @tiffromania.
While the more internationally-heralded heavyweights of Romania cinema have together forged a clear aesthetic and thematic trajectory under which the nation’s much-discussed new wave has come to be contextualised, back home there are just as many talented types at work on projects whose residence outside the purview of this arguably-exclusive understanding doesn’t preclude just as incisive a take on the Romania of today and how it’s come to be. Perhaps chief among them is Dan Chişu, whose minor success beyond national borders with Chasing Rainbows was but a brief flirtation with the kind of recognition reserved for the Porumboius and Puius of the world. More’s the pity: here is a TIFF regular whose eclectic efforts, if erratic, ought to have had his name alongside theirs some years ago.
…Chişu has put concept before character and crafted therein a film whose register rarely falls outside dull or didactic.
Hopes, then, are high for YouTube Bazaar, one of two titles Chişu carries in tow this year, and the one given considerably stronger backing by the fest itself, which launches a venue and strand both with a special screening tonight. On the evidence of Bucharest Non-Stop, it’s no small wonder that’s the one singled out: Chişu’s finest films have always fronted formal experimentation, an aspect to which this pseudo-portmanteau problem picture can lay little claim. Indeed it’s an effort strikingly standard, given an artist whose movies usually struggle even in pronouncing that word: a tetraptych of tales anchored at the site of the eponymous all-night convenience store, this is placid and passable fare from a filmmaker who’s shown himself capable of so much more.
That’s not evident for some time after the opening, where the camera cranes down the face of one of the capital’s communist-era apartment blocks, pausing to take in the residents inside in a multi-storey establishing tracking shot that attests the director’s decadent versatility. In formal terms it’s a fine film, making use of its cross-cut story structure for some simple but satisfying editorial arrangements and with them evincing an overarching narrative that meets the mark as a succinct story and social snapshot both. If only that weren’t so stale a calling: pictures like this are a dime a dozen, and for all the commensurate craft with which Chişu mounts it, there’s the inevitable sense of being brought up in the same breath as Crash, and of entirely earning it.
It hardly helps that only one of the stories might carry a compelling short in its own right; reaching for pressing social issues like forced prostitution and elderly abandonment, Chişu has put concept before character and crafted therein a film whose register rarely falls outside dull or didactic. Eventually assembling a puzzle piece problem picture, the film hits on several ideas without ever approaching their core, having characters conveniently realise the error of each other’s ways for an assemblage of ignorance ostensibly excused by collective contemplation. That’s an egalitarian idyll, depending on your view, either nice or naïve, but nuanced to none: Non-Stop emerges a portrait of Bucharest lest realist than fabulist.
…Non-Stop emerges a portrait of Bucharest lest realist than fabulist.
Chişu’s cast, then, are saddled with making the most of their respective narratives, a task tough enough for even the finest among them. It is, at least, an amenable interaction: for all the futility with which the film fumbles for meaning, it’s relatively functional as a piece that comes back around to complete itself by the end. Would that it were all in service of more: even in his less successful experiments—I wrote on the fixating Déjà Vu from Cluj in 2013— Chişu has been a bastion of the new, touting formal daring for a forward-facing cinema of exciting possibilities. All the body parts that can be are crossed for YouTube Bazaar: its own efforts, with any luck, will be enough for two.
Chişu has put concept before character and crafted therein a film whose register rarely falls outside dull or didactic.