By James Haseltine
Directed by Radu Muntean
London Film Festival review
Radu Muntean directs this taut Romanian character study that leaves the viewer longing for something a little more.
Sandu Patrescu (Teodor Corban) returns home from his morning walk with his lovable retriever, Jerry. An early rising, dieting, dog-loving family man represents a new Sandu, one that the viewer is thrust into accepting. Climbing the steps to his apartment, Sandu’s curiosity is aroused by a domestic quarrel happening behind closed doors. Naturally he slows his climb to listen in but is soon caught when Dima (Iulian Postelnicu) emerges from the apartment with a stern suspicion strewn across his face. Sandu politely, guiltily, heads home carrying his burden with him. The domestic argument has clearly affected him but he appears too caught up in maintaining the status quo to let any moral obligation get the better of him.
His mundane life rolls forward as he checks in on his computer addicted son, Matei, and prepares to head out to work. His exact occupation remains a mystery for the duration of the film but the mystery adds to the image of our terse protagonist and is actually one of the more interesting things about One Floor Below.
Sandu is soon interrupted at work by a phone call that sets the film in motion. His neighbour has been found dead and Sandu has a strong suspicion that Dima is the murderer. He has little proof and even less of a conscience to report his encounter with Dima to the police.
It’s this frustrating underlying tone of knowing things could be different if Sandu reported his run-in with Dima that is central to Muntean’s neatly woven character study. When Dima hires Sandu to help with a car registration issue Sandu exudes an uncomfortable air present in every exchange between the two men. But the film drags a little in the middle, playing off rumours, guilt and pent up frustration to drive the film forward to a surprising finish that feels too little too late.
Much like its name, One Floor Below fails to delve much deeper than a superficial layer of guilt and suspect. Leaving the viewer simmering over the same rumours and guilt that plague Sandu to the point of relapse, Muntean successfully drives a wedge between Sandu’s usual personable self and his moral obligation.
Perhaps the most notable achievement of One Floor Below is Sandu’s clear regression into a state of mind that he was trying to escape. Nursing a sore hand and calming his videogame frenzied insomniac son, Sandu lies weary headed in the dark as Muntean calls time. The viewer is left in dark frustration as the credits close and Muntean’s point about moral obligation falls short of the mark in a film that fails to fill the shoes of its promising potential.
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