Director: Alexandru Belc | Script: Alexandru Belc | Cast: Mara Bugarin (Ana), Serban Lazarovici (Sorin), Vlad Ivanov (Biris), her | Time to play: 93 minutes | Year: 2022
in youth drama metronome a generation dreams of a freedom that turns out not to exist even behind closed doors. The Romanian film effectively depicts the contrast between Nicolae Ceauşescu’s clinical historical regime and the pillars of his energetic counterculture: music, dance and togetherness. As the protagonists of the public space cannot be themselves, they celebrate life inside, waiting for better times.
A group of friends meet at the home of the assertive Roxana, a friend of the more introverted, but no less intransigent Ana (the lively protagonist of Mara Bugarin). In the first scene, the boys haven’t arrived yet, after which Roxana and Ana fantasize about the art of seduction and the characteristic dance steps. Still, Ana in particular is unable to wait for the carefree evening.
Moments before, he said goodbye to his friend Sorin, who will only join the company later on. He’s on a ‘political mission’ on behalf of the group, that much is clear, but the stakes are higher: his family has plans to move to Germany soon, and it seems Sorin isn’t as opposed to that decision as he is. Anna would like it.
Night falls and the (re)arrival of her boyfriend is deceptively slow to arrive. While the living room serves as a dance floor, Ana finds herself overcome by fear and doubt in the lonely kitchen. Is Sorin safe? Do the walls have ears? I can trust him? Even if Sorin returns, disaster is in the air.
By shooting in an oppressive 4:3 frame, debuting feature director Alexandru Belc makes the subject matter of his film even more palpable. Each room has the appearance of a prison: the manor square, where effigies glorify the history of the regime, is not much inferior to the headquarters of the communist authorities, where, of course, an image of the great leader hangs. The rooms in the house are also narrow and the walls thin, but while it lasts, the youngsters can at least dance there and listen to Radio Free Europe or The Doors.
before him metronome Belc was assistant director to both Corneliu Porumboiu and Cristian Mungiu. These two film auteurs still leave their mark on Romanian (and European) cinema, and more than once have reflected in their work on the Ceauşescu era and his legacy. It’s a Small World: Vladimir Panduru, the cinematographer of Mungiu’s intriguing cultural reflection MRI (last winter in Dutch cinemas), also screened during the same Cannes edition metronome.
It’s tempting, but it doesn’t cover the burden of viewing Belc’s debut solely through the lens of his mentors. Certainly the understated humor and bureaucratic inevitability of the regime are reminiscent of Porumboiu, and the substantive parallels to Mungiu’s work are also there because of the shared historical and social context. At the same time, Belc is visibly searching for his own shape in the midst of these influences.
This quest is expressed in warm lighting, a rich color palette and dynamic camerawork (both in the sense of ‘moving’ and ‘alternating’ – in the house we follow Ana and close-ups are often used, outside of the house the camera often takes a distance), which is a far cry from the dreary look and more consistent picture direction in, say, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (Mungiu) of 12:08 Bucharest East (Porumboy). Belc’s mentors are often praised for their so-called “realistic style”; Belc lets his characters dream, after which their intimate encounters give way to a cold political fate.
metronome it paints a vivid picture of a counterculture, but as a character study it also has enough focus to pass for relationship drama. The latter might win over some enthusiasts who fear a dry history lesson, or who have no particular interest in Romanian cinema and the works of Belc’s professors. It’s too bad at best that the setting is somewhat incomplete and moving towards a predictable and inevitable climax. Therefore, Belc does not (yet) offer a masterpiece, but he promises to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and is capable of much.