Movie Review: Boogie, by Irina Trocan

20 July, 2017

This month’s movie review is written by Irina Trocan about Boogie, Radu Muntean‘s feature film from 2008.

Three old friends, aged thirty-something , meet up on a vacation evening and talk about what’s been going on with each of them ever since life took them on different paths. This could be happening anywhere, anytime, but it takes place in Romania around the year 2008, and the film capturing this fictitious meeting – Boogie (2008, directed by Radu Muntean, co-written by Muntean and screenwriters Razvan Radulescu and Alexandru Baciu) – is specific enough to deserve a retrospective glance. It was never true that New Romanian Cinema most often tells humorless pre-Revolution stories, but now it has a long enough tradition in itself that it too can be viewed historically. Boogie’s style – both in dramaturgy, and mise-en-scène – is a fairly clean example of what many Romanian films from 2001 onwards have been doing right: with a self-sustaining anecdote as starting point, it goes on to build the bigger picture, meaning the society in which the characters live and which shaped them, with the possibilities it offers them and the hopes it nurtures without being able to accomplish them.

Almost ten years later, Boogie shows its age, in various ways: the phones used by the protagonists are now museum pieces. (And anyway, who even sends passive-aggressive text messages nowadays, instead of passive-aggressive GIFs?) Hanging out at the bowling alley seems to be the more easy to shoot alternative to a gaming session. Even the era when Romanians who could afford to plan their holidays abroad would turn to a tourism agency for it seems to be from an a-technological past. However, the feeling that looms over the entire film is still pretty actual, in a (very slowly) developing country: the quiet desperation that the moment you become an adult – assumingly able to live the way you like – does not lead to fulfilling your dreams but to constant negotiation with a harsh reality.

On the first day of May, Boogie (Dragoș Bucur) goes to the seaside with his family on Labor Day, and unexpectedly runs into two former high school mates. Iordache (Adrian Văncică) has returned from working in Sweden and has joined Penescu (Mimi Brănescu), looking for fun. The two have all the freedom (to drink, smoke and flirt) that Boogie lacks, except that both of them seem to carry with them the rest of life, like a highly bothersome background noise. For Boogie, what happens during the night is a breath of fresh air, after he started his day by looking after his kid and was later nagged by his wife Smaranda (Ana Maria Marinca) for ignoring her in favor of his buddies. Due to peer pressure, Boogie overcomes some mainly symbolic limits: he starts drinking again after some months of sobriety, and lights up a cigarette (although it’s unclear whether or not he smokes it to the end).  After the film hints that his relationship with his wife doesn’t really thrill him anymore, Boogie has the occasion to flirt – more successfully than his pals – with a young female brand ambassador that comes to their table, and towards the morning Iordache comes back from a club with a prostitute with whom he has arranged to take care of all three of them, as a final  test for Boogie on how much he is willing to risk steering away from his head-of-family behavior.

In a film in which the dialogue plays a very important role, Muntean’s directing keeps the film dynamic and gives the surroundings a fairly big importance. A few scenes at the beach, in the club or the restaurant are thought out in deep-focus mise-en-scène – even if what’s important is happening in the foreground, by the end of the scene we have a pretty clear picture of the place, and, at one point, our attention is drawn by a character from the background. Other times the director is able to integrate visual elements in the dramaturgy: Boogie leaves his friends and goes back to Smaranda after receiving an alarming text message from her. However, when he arrives, he finds her in the dark, complaining that she wants to sleep. What happens next is an argument, filmed in a classical manner (a two-shot), in a semi-darkness in which the actors’ expressions can’t be clearly made out (both of them act out the scene through voice and ample gestures), but we already know that the darkness irritates him and that they can’t see each other clearly either, and that raises the dramatic tension – it gives the impression of stagnating conflict. When he goes back looking for his friends, the director and the DOP Tudor Lucaciu are again able to suggest a whole lot just through the decoupage: Boogie sits at the same table where he drank with his buddies a while earlier; he has coffee waiting for whatever will happen next; the framing is tight, and one side of the table (where no one is seated anymore) is missing from the frame.

Probably most of the small surprises that the film has to offer come from the screenplay – spontaneous, well-written moments, which we wouldn’t even realize were missing in other films had we not seen them here: Iordache announces that he’s going back to Sweden to marry his girlfriend, but Boogie reminds him that he was just saying he doesn’t like her; Iordache replies simply: „I like her!”. In another scene, while they’re waiting in Penescu’s hotel room, Boogie sits down on the bed and – as an occupational hazard– starts examining the bed and drawers, marveling at how badly they are made. In spite of the lack of actual plot twists, the moments that the characters go through reveal them to us, bit by bit, so that by the end of the film we understand the complexity of who they are and how they got here. What makes this film work (and it is, in my opinion, Radu Muntean’s best film) is a mix of much calculation and welcome moments of spontaneity – which is about as much as the characters, as adults, can hope for as well.

Avatar Irina Trocan

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