Breaking Monsters into three chapters, award-winning Romanian writer/director Marius Olteanu gives us a brief window into the sombre despair of an expiring marriage in his debut feature.
Told over a 24-hour period and shot in Bucharest, the film begins with a deeply unhappy woman, Dana (Judith State), staring out of a taxi cab window, hollow whilst the hectic world goes by around her. Following a strained phone conversation, she instructs the driver to take her to another destination, but seems reluctant to go inside, even offering to pay him to simply sit with her outside for the rest of the night.
The imagery of this chapter is dark and gloomy, the angles uncomplicated and the pace does hover on tedious. Yet enigmatic Dana and expressive driver Alex (Alexandru Potocean, delivering an immersing performance) manage to keep the narrative beating with their naturalistic interactions and everyday dialogue. They smoke together, finally sharing fragmented insights into the current sorry state of their worlds. These two strangers quickly form a knowing bond of comfort and one gets the sense that in another life they might have become a powerful combination.
Garish daylight and a frenetic gym class begins Andrei’s (Cristian Popa) chapter. This shot of adrenaline does draw boundaries, however, the imagery is still simple and distant. Our new protagonist is clearly a man in torment, wrestling with his inner demons. Night falls and after a deeply awkward and dismal sexual encounter with a fussy, obsessive older man (an outstanding Serban Pavlu), a desolate Andrei makes a soul-baring call where we hear the other half of Dana’s previously strained conversation, connecting these two parallel stories.
It’s the morning after and, as our couple reunite, Olteanu interestingly widens the screen ratio to expand their world. Witnessing how the couple cling to and then wound each other, the viewer sees them pulling apart their tattered relationship in private whilst playing the dutiful, pristine couple in public in a futile attempt to satisfy society’s strict conventions. This is utterly believable and testament to the impressive talent of the two leads as they subtly portray their characters’ internal heartbreak.
It’s here where the filmmaker delves deeply into the fabric of the self and coupledom. The residual tenderness of this pair makes this all the more painful as both grapple with secrets, needs, self acceptance, individual expression, social norms and messy subtext. However, the psychodrama never hurtles into excessive melodrama as their broken marriage crawls towards its inevitable if unresolved final moments among Olteanu’s now familiar trains.
Monsters thoughtfully examines the soul-destroying agony of holding on and the paralysing fear of letting go, as taking that leap into a solo unknown could yield deliverance or despair. The visual landscape is basic and the film’s overall tone is joyless and dispassionate, but the realistic and voyeuristic aspects of this two-hand tale will appeal to admirers of introverted one-track narratives and Olteanu’s emerging style and focus on private vs public.
Monsters does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
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