The talk never stops in “Principles of Life,” a gabfest of slice-of-life inconsequentialities from sophomore helmer Constantin Popescu. Completely unlike Popescu’s previous “Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man,” current pic feels most influenced by star scripter Razvan Radulescu, who turns in yet another intimate family drama, this time about a middle-class average Joe unable to cope with a day of minor setbacks. Notable as the first feature (finally) to cast ace thesp Vlad Ivanov as the lead, “Principles” has little else to distinguish it from similar fare, and will likely enjoy only moderate fest rotation.
It’s summertime in Bucharest and the living only seems easy. Emilian (Ivanov) looks forward to a vacation on the Bulgarian coast with his second wife, Ruxi (Rodica Lazar), their baby and his teenage son, Catalin (Gabriel Huian), from his first marriage to Vicki (Crina Muresan). He checks on the builders of his new house, attempts to allay a client’s fears about the brochures he’s printing for her and endures a series of small annoyances.
Over the course of 24 hours, things just won’t go his way, and Emilian starts to steam up. Someone parks in his space; his baby may be feverish; his teenager behaves, well, like a teen; and he argues with his former and current spouses. It all leads to an outburst of uncontrolled violence that says … what, exactly? That he can’t control his life and the lives of those around him? That his “hail fellow well met” front disguises a petty, mean-spirited egotist with no tolerance when things go awry? Hardly the stuff of tragedy, or even drama, as presented here.
Instead, the pic is largely filled with trivial matters until the violence at the end, whose force comes as a shock, though Emilian’s eruption feels both uncalled for and out of proportion to what came earlier. “Principles of Life” turns out to be a rather pretentious title for a film that’s far more “minor frustrations of an average control freak,” and its similarities in style and conversational flow to several recent Romanian pics, including Radu Jude’s superior “The Happiest Girl in the Word,” will unfortunately fuel critics’ complaints about a dearth of diversity.
Ivanov’s ego-free performance is the main reason to see “Principles,” though at this stage, the actor needs no further confirmation of his talents. Liviu Marghidan’s lensing is largely Steadicam work, intimate and flexible without being jarring; all for the best, since most viewers will need to spend 80 percent of the running time reading the endless subtitles rather than watching the screen.