×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘One Floor Below’

A moral quandary melds with a skilled construction of three-dimensional bourgeois life in Radu Muntean's lean, absorbing anti-thriller.

With:
Teodor Corban, Iulian Postelnicu, Oxana Moravec, Ionut Bora, Tatiana Iekel, Vlad Ivanov, Mihaela Sirbu, Ioana Flora, Maria Popistasu, Liviu Cheloiu. (Romanian dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4620316/reference

The moral tug-of-war between reporting a homicide and remaining silent lies at the core of Radu Muntean’s lean, absorbing anti-thriller “One Floor Below.” Like a pot set to bubble only every few seconds, the drama is tightly measured to ensure a controlled level of tension that remains discreetly constant, nicely melding with Muntean’s skilled construction of three-dimensional bourgeois life. The helmer’s affinity for young, middle-class relationship stories is expanded here, and the confidence he gives his actors, as always, serves him well. While understated, “One Floor Below” non-judgmentally homes in on a weighty theme and deserves a high place on the fest circuit.

The camera almost never leaves Sandu Patrascu (Teodor Corban), but it’s not quite accurate to say audiences see the action through his eyes — rather, the character’s steady presence forces us to question his motivation without condemning him. He’s a perfectly “normal” guy, sharing a business with his wife, Olga (Oxana Moravec), as car-registration expediters, lavishing attention on his golden Lab, Jerry, and being a decent dad to his son, Matei (Ionut Bora). While going home, he hears a violent argument in a first-floor apartment between Laura (Maria Popistasu) and her horny, married neighbor on the second floor, Vali (Iulian Postelnicu). Lingering a little longer than he should in the hall, Sandu encounters Vali exiting.

Later that day, Sandu gets word that Laura is dead, possibly murdered. The police come to question the building’s occupants, and Sandu stays mum, not even telling Olga about the argument, although there’s little doubt in either his mind or the viewer’s that Vali murdered Laura. But maybe, just maybe, if Sandu doesn’t say a word, it will all blow over.

Muntean and co-scripters Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu are never explicit about what Sandu is thinking (this wouldn’t be a Romanian film if they were): Is he protecting his family? Himself? An undercurrent of so much of new Romanian cinema has been the need to strip bare how people treat each other as fellow human beings, a theme that “One Floor Below” subtly examines not via the murder, but through Sandu’s lack of a sense of the common good: Keep your head down, don’t get involved — a message hardly limited to one Balkan nation.

But Vali lives in the same building, and he’s not going away. He hangs around, a figure of quiet menace with a s–t-eating grin that’s designed to make Sandu uneasy. Then he asks Sandu to help with his car registration, and ingratiates himself in the family by connecting Matei’s Xbox and offering computer advice. Vali is wondering why Sandu didn’t turn him in, Sandu is wondering whether Vali is a threat to his family, and tension is building on all sides.

A good life, an average life, is severely shaken, and Sandu’s quandary — to tell or not to tell — channels directly into his conscience. What works so well in “One Floor Below” is how Muntean sets this dilemma off against the Patrascus’ daily existence: They have friends and family, Olga helps Matei with his math homework, Sandu enters Jerry in a canine contest. At the registration office the people know and like him; he has a sense of humor — his private phone ring is a recording of Ceaucescu’s voice. Is a sense of societal responsibility a necessary component of a decent fellow?

The script’s ability to keep all these ideas in play while maintaining a satisfyingly low-key approach speaks to its strengths, reinforced by the way the camera constantly privileges Sandu with frequent shallow focus and lighting. Corban, still best known for “12:08 East of Bucharest,” warrants the camera’s attention, delivering a performance in which the interior struggles exist just under the skin. He’s a fully developed character, and his near-omnipresence, within a limited span of time, increases the sense of pressures doggedly wearing at his soul. Postelnicu’s chilling aura, steeped in menacing smugness, lingers even when he’s offscreen.

Muntean again works with his usual tech collaborators (d.p. Tudor Lucaciu and editor Alexandru Radu), achieving a degree of minimalism that never feels empty or trying. His characters are the focus, and through them, a regular life becomes weighted with a moral dilemma of quasi-Dostoevskian proportions.

Cannes Film Review: 'One Floor Below'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 14, 2015. Running time: 93 MIN. (Original title: “Un etaj mai jos")

Production: (Romania-France-Germany-Sweden) An Epicentre Films (in France) release of a Multi Media Est, Les Films d’Apres Midi, Neue Mediopolis Filmproduktion, Bleck Film & TV production, with the participation of CNC, Institut francais, HBO Romania, Cofinova 11, Cine plus, Chimney. (International sales: Films Boutique, Paris.) Produced by Dragos Vilcu. Delegate producer, Oana Kelemen. Co-producers, Francois D’Artemare, Alexander Ris, Christine Haupt, Anna Croneman. Co-executive producers, Jessica Ask, Fredrick Zander, Frank Evers, Helge Neubronner, Andreas Eicher.

Crew: Directed by Radu Muntean. Screenplay, Alexandru Baciu, Muntean, Razvan Radulescu. Camera (color, widescreen), Tudor Lucaciu; editor, Alexandru Radu; music, Electric Brother; production designer, Sorin Dima; costume designer, Eliza Frone; sound, Andre Rigaut, Alexandru Radu; line producer, Christine Haupt; assistant director, Sebastian Mihailescu; casting, Andrei Amarfoaie, Carmen Sandu.

With: Teodor Corban, Iulian Postelnicu, Oxana Moravec, Ionut Bora, Tatiana Iekel, Vlad Ivanov, Mihaela Sirbu, Ioana Flora, Maria Popistasu, Liviu Cheloiu. (Romanian dialogue)

More Film

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Steven Spielberg Remembers 'Friend and Early Mentor' Stanley Donen

    As news of the death of prolific director Stanley Donen spread Saturday, the industry was quick to remember the helmer of so many classic musicals. Donen directed such hits as “Singin’ in the Rain,” co-directed with and starring Gene Kelly; “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn; and “Charade,” with Hepburn and Cary Grant. More Reviews Film [...]

  • Aubrey Plaza Spirit Awards

    How to Watch the 2019 Spirit Awards Online

    The Spirit Awards are taking over television Saturday from Santa Monica, Calif., but viewers don’t need a TV to tune in. Hosted by “Parks and Recreation” star Aubrey Plaza, this year’s Spirit Awards are set to air on IFC at 2 p.m. PT and again on Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. ET. However, indie lovers [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Oscars, After Repeated Tumbles, Take Center Stage in Hollywood

    At least the weather will be sunny for Sunday afternoon’s Oscars ceremony following one of the stormiest —  and strangest — awards seasons in memory. Expectations have been turned upside down in key categories amid a historic lack of consensus among guild and critics groups. The 91st Academy Awards will be the first in three [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Speeding to Series-Best Debut With $58 Million

    Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is far and away the box office champ for Academy Awards weekend with an estimated debut of $58 million from 4,259 North American locations. Three holdovers and an expansion will make up the other top four spots, with the sophomore frame of sci-fier “Alita: Battle Angel” [...]

  • Stanley Donen

    Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

    Stanley Donen, the director of such stylish and exuberant films as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “Two for the Road” and the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age, has died at 94. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips tweeted that one of his sons had confirmed the news to him. More [...]

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content