For his third feature, Corneliu Porumboiu turns that Romanian long-take gaze on his own profession. Shot with a fixed camera and a steadfast single viewpoint for each scene, this long-winded, minimalist film dwells on scenes of a director (Bogdan Dumitrache) dissecting blocking and character motivation with an actress (Diana Avramut) with whom he’s having an affair. Just what is real and spontaneous anyway? And will the film they’re discussing look like this one?
Porumboiu keeps his cards very close to his vest with these deadpan performances—a far cry from the buffoonery in his other films—and with lengthy debates, at dinner and in cars, that vacillate between playful and pedantic. The same pettiness afflicts these Serious Artists as does his other protagonists: the director passive-aggressively shifts the focus of his film away from the actress when she rejects him, while a producer figure feels free to call him out on his lies.
Released now after playing in festivals in 2013, Porumboiu’s restrained exercise keeps interesting company with Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria, though it also looks back to Radu Jude’s Happiest Girl in the World, minus the popular city/country tension. Scattering determinist arguments about filmmaking as if to rope in critics, Porumboiu sharpens the conundrum of his critique with full-screen footage of an endoscopy: is this degree-zero realism, or the long way round to disappearing up your own…?