How much trouble could a mathematician get into? In Andrei Gruszniczki’s subdued drama set in Communist Romania, Sorin (Sorin Leoveanu), a talented 35-year-old professor living with his mother, attracts the attention of the secret police. The problem: he isn’t a Party member, and to make matters worse he has clandestinely published a paper in an American journal. It’s enough to keep his career stalled despite his abilities—the same frustrating predicament, ironically, that faces the investigating Securitate agent (Florin Piersic Jr.) determined to pin something on him. Meanwhile, Sorin quietly nurtures a crush on his computer-programmer friend, Elena (Ofelia Popii), who lives with her young son and father but wants to join her husband in Paris.
Gruszniczki’s film takes the familiar Cold War premise of life under surveillance—the mix of mistrust, idealism, and resignation, the drab surroundings—and makes it feel lived-in. Shot in black and white, this world of gas-station queues, broken appliances, and casual chauvinism has the ring of truth. The story deepens as Sorin senses what’s afoot, and there’s a way in which his home life, and Elena’s, resonate with the implicit infantilization promoted by an authoritarian state.
But Gruszniczki, who also wrote the screenplay, keeps the filmmaking keyed to the characters and their environment rather than making grand statements. While there’s none of the experimental formal stringency associated with his younger peers in the New Romanian Cinema, his film carries the simmering charge of a story that for many years couldn’t be told but feels just as urgent now.
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