When one thinks about European cinema, it is usually Scandinavia, France, Spain or Italy that comes into mind; but it’s time to think again. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, there has been a string of critically acclaimed films of Romanian origin, including 2007’s Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and a long list of others. “The Romanian New Wave” is a term worth learning. This month, as part of “The Balkan Film” season running in The Byre Theatre, another Romanian film, Morgen, was presented by the director himself: Cannes Best Short Film prize winner Marian Crisan.
Morgen tells the story of Nelu (Andras Hathazi), a super-market security guard in Salonta on the Romanian-Hungarian border. He often enjoys fishing trips to Hungary, but has to deal with border guards; nicely depicted in the very first scene, when Nelu’s fish is taken away. These conversations with authoritative figures, police checks and the scrutinisation of one’s life constantly project a feeling of the post-communist world.
While out fishing Nelu finds Behran (Yilmaz Yalcin), a Turkish man trying to find a way to his family in Germany, hiding from the police in a canal, eventually taking him home. They can’t understand each other, and while Behran is constantly speaking in a fast manner, the audience is allowed to feel the frustration of Nelu as no subtitles are provided. The only word Nelu knows is “Morgen” (tomorrow in German), that he repeats – day after day.
The movie, whilst sometimes predictable, is striking in its depiction of reality. We’re so used to leading characters who instantly know all the answers; and so Nelu’s incapability is all it takes to relate to the character – how would you help a man to cross a border? While coming up with different plans, these men, who have nothing in common, start to grow a silent bond. Their strange friendship is contrasted with all the media information and people around him, who portray illegal immigrants as dangerous terrorists rather than human beings with families.
Morgen often feels like documentary rather than fiction, showing the changes in everyday life since Romania became a part of the European Union. Or rather, the opposite, as they continue to live without running water or indoor toilets. People and houses stayed the same; seemingly the only thing that changed was the influx of supermarkets. That is why Nelu feels a certain solidarity with Behran – they both are on their way to the long-dreamed of European Union.
Marian Crisan in his Q&A session stressed that it is families that interest him mostly, and in Morgen the most important family is the one we know nothing about – that of Behran, which are somewhere in Germany. It is not important how they ended up there or why Behran is not with them, but it is enough to set Behran on the road. While the movie was screened all around the Europe, Marian Crisan revealed that the most interesting reactions came in Istanbul, where the audience reacted the opposite way, understanding and relating to Behran, not Nelu.
Crisan’s long-shots and camera distance are striking, reminiscent of Finnish cinema and the slow-pace of Aki Kaurismaki movies, who is admired by Marian Crisan. All scenes are shot in one take, with no cutting and no close-up images. The film, as with all movies in “The Romanian New Wave”, is shot in natural lighting, which often causes a loss of clarity, but also brings mystical, even remarkable images. The director revealed that he does not believe in written lines, and Romanian cinema is now taking a rather documentary approach: it challenges time on-screen, observes from distance and allows improvisation. Morgen is a thought-provoking film, which some might find slow-moving or uninteresting, but it definitely deserves to be seen and ruminated over afterwards.