Movies with a one-track mind can be frustrating. The needlessly titled “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism” has just such a mind. Watching it is a frustrating, sometimes maddening experience, but it’s hard to deny its brilliance. Over 90 ponderous minutes, director Corneliu Porumboiu breaks cinema down to its bare essentials. But to what purpose? It’s only enjoyable if you think about it, which, in the end, is only so enjoyable.
Oftentimes, “When Evening Falls” skims over the plot in favor of its themes. Since there’s little emotional connection here, it ends up feeling didactic. The message could be profound, after all it questions the nature of cinema itself. But it just feels, strangely, overdone. The style is so understated that it ceases to feel understated. Instead, it feels so singularly focused on delivering its message in a certain way that it just becomes a slog.
Ostensibly, the plot follows a director, Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache, “Double”), working on his latest project, and his main actress and lover, Alina (Diana Avramut). Without telling Alina, Paul adds a nude scene to the movie. Over several tense interactions, they discuss and, eventually, rehearse that scene. But the plot is the least important part. The movie is so nakedly about anything other than itself that the real question becomes “what is this movie about?” It’s about movies themselves.
Everything is artificial enough to draw attention to itself. As such, it feels choppy. The connection between scenes is so tenuous that the whole experience feels surreal. However, it’s not the content that’s surreal, it’s the way that content is presented, as a movie barely representative of reality, that’s surreal. It’s an intellectually thrilling conceit, but boring in every other light.
It begs to be pored over and thought about, and that quality ends up dragging it down. What few moments of emotional connection there are end up blatantly serving a larger thematic purpose. Since those moments can’t stand on their own, they end up feeling cheap. The movie’s understated style tries to break through that. Sometimes it does, more often it doesn’t.
Underneath its thematic surface, “When Evening Falls” is empty. Paul and Alina are characters only so far as it serves the movie’s message. Even their relationship becomes something other than itself, and it’s frustrating. Plotlessness can be done well, and “When Evening Falls” is serviceable, it should just learn to take a step back once and a while.