The film’s conceit is its triumph; its execution is another matter.
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Când se lasă seara peste Bucureşti sau Metabolism, Corneliu Porumboiu, 2013) is another product of slow cinema. Porumboiu establishes his penchant for self-reflexivity in the opening sequence. The camera shoots from the backseat of a car. In the front seats are a mid-career director and the actress of his film in progress. The director discusses the merits and pitfalls of the recent shift to digital. The actress does not seem to fully understand the significance of shooting an 11-minute reel vs. the infinite reel of digital. The conversation drags for about seven or eight minutes, uncut. Every other chapter of the film is likewise a sequence image, often with some camera movement to follow the actions of the characters. However, there is nothing of Tsai Ming-liang’s staging and framing here; the camera moves to follow the dramatic action, while Tsai’s camera operates as on observer of a scene – in Tsai’s films the inclusion of human characters often feels incidental.
The plot of Evening Falls is rather minimalist. The film documents the relationship between director and actress, intimately and as it relates to the film-in-progress. The director has hit in a snag in his process; in the opening sequence, the actress demands that he provide justification for her nude scene. But this is not the elaborate tussle of director and performers as in Sex is Comedy (2002) by Catherine Breillat. Rather, Evening Falls is at pains to demonstrate the effort involved in providing that justification. We watch endless rehearsals, script revisions, dinners and meetings, all to no real end. Shooting a nude scene, the plot seems to suggest, is always more than shooting a nude scene. Thus when the diegetic world of Evening Falls delivers us the nudity of the actress in a sequence that is choreographed in a similar manner to the film-within-a-film, Porumboiu wants us to believe that nudity is neither justified nor necessary – it is yet another attraction or is already in excess of story and plot. The strange thing about Evening Falls, then, is its reflexivity, its distanciation. Nudity, like every aspect of the film, is always framed with the viewer in mind – it carries no meaning except what the spectator is able to generate for him- or herself.
So, an hour and a half of slow cinema to prove a point. The dialogue and new relationship between director and actress proves to be much more ambiguous than those depicted in Sex is Comedy: the actress is not exploited by her director/producer or her own ambition as in Starry Eyes (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, 2014). Perhaps the film is a metacritical response to recent art cinema: contemporary art cinema seems to require the body of a woman to establish itself as a work of art. If a director can legitimate the use of an actress’s nude body, he has achieved something great; if he cannot, he is criticized for exploitation or producing a work of pornography. Evening Falls takes the ironic stance on present-day filmmaking – all excessive, all exploitative, all pornography.
Some have declared the act of looking at a film to be a form of voyeurism. Porumboiu might be showing us that filmmaking too is part of this activity of voyeurism and the only escape from it is an ironic detachment.