Radu Muntean’s brilliant “Întregalde” conceals several things. People lose their tempers, their thoughts, their control of their bowels, their loyalties, their beliefs, and perhaps even their perception of themselves as nice, selfless individuals as night falls in the midst of an increasingly frightening Romanian forest.
But this tragicomedy’s uncanny ability to hold your attention is undeniable: Despite a less consistent body of work after his breakthrough with 2010’s “Tuesday After Christmas,” Muntean surprises with captivating new depths of scathing humour and emotional insight in his latest.
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Alongside a stalled jeep on a dirt lane leading to a sawmill that, like a Beckettian device, might or might not be there, he is reborn as a filmmaker amid the mulch and fallen leaves of the Transylvanian countryside.
Maria (Maria Popistasu, working with Muntean for the fourth time) is sitting in the back of the SUV, accompanied by the talkative, romantically dissatisfied Ilinca (Ilona Brezoianu), and the short-fused, vehicle-proud Dan (Alex Bogdan).
They are city dwellers bringing aid to the underprivileged of the hills. We’ve witnessed Radu (Muntean) and Cristina (Carmen Lopăzan) running an efficient ship as their employees hustle about the distribution centre, load the cars, and plan their itineraries.
One local child was recently given an iPad, and the gift sparked a brief discussion regarding the age-old issue that accompanies acts of generosity: Is it kind to provide the underprivileged with a taste of what they’ve been missing, or is it cruel and does it merely make their lot more miserable?
Relationships among the group are established in snappy, crisp exchanges that have the organic feel of improvisation yet the pointedness of tight scripting (here courtesy of Muntean, Razvan Radulescu, and Alexandru Baciu).
By the time Maria decides to take Dan’s car instead of going with Radu and Cristina, you may feel like you’ve known them forever, perhaps because their well-intentioned disdain hits so close to home.
This is a collection of people who know one other well but may not like each other as much as they’ve ever been forced to find out, but who are united for the time being by a shared purpose and a shared appreciation of their own benevolence.
In any case, they will learn that it is in their fate. Traveling to the nearby village of Întregalde, Dan, Ilinca, and Maria come upon an elderly man in need of assistance; Maria, in particular, is adamant that they provide this assistance.
The film’s lightning rod, the invaluable non-professional Luca Sabin, plays Kente, who convinces our heroes to detour into the woods so that they might drive him to a nearby sawmill. However, the vehicle becomes stranded in an area with no cell phone reception.
Dan rushes to fetch aid, Ilinca manages to drive the car even deeper into the ditch, and Kente turns out to be not just lacking in the thankfulness the others may feel is their due, but also a highly annoying, probably senile figure who may have been leading them up the garden path. The night begins to close in gradually.
Even though there is a lot of dialogue in the picture, each exchange between the film’s vividly depicted characters provides its own source of tension and surprises. We spend a lot of time in the car, and Tudor Panduru’s photos capture the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck with someone you’re quickly growing to dislike.
The camerawork emphasises the sense of confinement, but it never seems confined. In its place, Panduru finds fresh, oddly spacious perspectives on the tightly bound action, which always bring us in close enough to feel the physical uncomfortable but far enough to laugh at the ridiculousness.
Panduru creates rich, occasionally stunning visuals out of darkness, even when the characters abandon the automobile and start staggering through the forest in various huffs on various missions (like individuals who have never watched a horror movie).
Then, just as we’re about to pat ourselves on the back for seeing through the duplicity of these middle-class do-gooders, Muntean pulls his most ingenious twist. Unconsciously, they have a propensity toward treating those in need, in this case the elderly, as objects to be rescued or problems to be fixed.
It’s been like that for a while now in the movies, too. Kente is a great character, but his role in the story is mostly to provoke honest answers from the younger protagonists. Late in the story, however, we get a glimpse of Kente as he truly is: a human being who is deserving of more than pity.
worthy of acknowledgment despite being alone, fragile, and often afraid because of his age, geography, mental decline, and physical weakness.
The rest of “Întregalde,” however, is just as moving and melancholy as the final moments. Moreover, the ending adds to the overall beauty of the piece.