The absurdity of borders and the decency of the average Joe are the main themes of Marian Crisan’s buzzed-about feature debut, “Morgen.” The helmer’s 2008 Palme d’Or for short “Megatron” set up expectations that “Morgen” confirms, adroitly negotiating major issues in an intimate way by looking at their impact on a few people in a corner of northwestern Romania. Discreetly controlled lensing and an undisguised heart at the film’s core reveal a distinct voice in the Romanian landscape, and should translate into modest fest coverage with limited Euro arthouse possibilities for this Locarno jury prizewinner.
Returning home after a fishing trip on the Hungarian side of Romania’s frontier, Nelu (Andras Hathazi) is stopped by border guards who grill him for small infractions. This early scene, shot in dawn’s early light, is the first to underline the rigidity of minor authoritarian figures and the waste of resources, energy and goodwill that go into the inflexible enforcement of minor rules.
Nelu is a supermarket security guard who asks little from life apart from fishing, a beer with friends and some extra money to fix up the crumbling farmhouse he shares with sour-faced wife Florica (Elvira Rimbu) on the outskirts of the border town of Salonta. One morning, while casting his line, he sees a man hiding from the frontier police and reflexively offers protection. Behran (Yilmaz Yalcin) illegally crossed the Turkish-Bulgarian border before arriving in Romania, and only wants to get to Germany to be with his son’s family. Though he speaks no Romanian and Nelu speaks no Turkish, the two men, who are not far apart in age, develop a bond.
Some may chafe at Crisan’s decision to make Behran as unintelligible to auds as he is to Nelu; the loquacious Turk is never subtitled, though it’s possible to generically understand what he wants, as Nelu does. The device maintains a wall around Behran’s character, increasing the spectator’s identification with Nelu while keeping the Turk at a sometimes frustrating distance.
At first the mild-mannered Romanian conceals Behran in the cellar, lying to his harridan wife by saying their visitor is a gypsy hired to help with house repairs. A soccer game across the Hungarian border seems an ideal occasion to smuggle the Turk one country closer to his destination, but Behran gets spooked by a police car and comes back to his benefactor. All the poor Turk wants is assistance to get to Germany, but opportunities are scarce and Nelu can only reassure him with the one word he knows in German: “morgen” (“tomorrow”).
One of the pic’s many gentle pleasures is the way Crisan develops his characters, naturally conveying details with little or no exposition. Nelu’s uncomplicated humanity remains the focus, making his simple transgression — hiding an illegal refugee — seem both normal and wholly revolutionary. The director similarly brings to life the artificiality of borders, and the special qualities of frontier towns whose residents naturally partake of both sides.
Using largely middle and long shots, the lensing is true to the unobtrusive, handheld style of most recent Romanian pics, and only as the film progresses does the viewer realize all the scenes are done in one-shot takes, furthering a mood of unhurried rhythms. Natural light creates striking images, though reduced clarity in largely penumbral interiors can be wearying.