“Pororoca”: Somewhere Beyond the Point of No Return

By: Daniel Volfson

Only a few minutes into Constantin Popescu’s Pororoca and you’ll become suspicious of the all-too-perfect image of modern family life you see before your eyes. It’s a vision of upper-middle class prosperity plucked straight from a Subaru commercial, complete with a family rapport so flawless it’s unsettling. When a movie opens with something so overtly precious, you know it’s a setup for an imminently tragic turn of events. The first twenty minutes prime us for the abruptly horrifying blow that is fated to puncture the bubble at any moment. When the blow lands, the family’s idyllic trappings are torn to shreds and the movie is set in motion.

Tudor (Bogdan Dumitrache) and Cristina (Lulia Lumanare) become victims of fate’s cruelly indifferent forces when one of their children goes missing, without a trace, in a generic playground. The ensuing aftermath insulates the couple in a hellish psychic membrane which will come to define the remainder of their lives. The remaining two hours are so painstakingly vivid that they envelop, or rather, ensnare you in Tudor’s rabidly claustrophobic headspace. It’s a psychological thriller which makes use of every last second of Tudor’s hopelessly deranged anguish. The movie nurses his festering wounds until they swell to proportions so monstrous that he becomes a slave to them.

This premise is nothing new, except we usually see the story unfold from a totally different vantage point. Instead of gaining momentum from the various turns and twists of the police investigation, this movie is propelled by the marked lack of any police leads. It’s the utter meaninglessness of the predicament which devastates Tudor, who cannot accept the fact that there is nothing within his power that could bring back his presumably kidnapped daughter. He exists in a kind of vacuum in which any action he takes to try to find his daughter goes unreciprocated. In the face of this irremediable bind, all Tudor can do is hurl his fists at the stonewall prison of his situation and cower helplessly. He desperately targets scapegoats so he can take solace in the illusion that he can eventually exact revenge and redeem his daughter. The film’s pressure is regulated so symphonically that its tension never falters but rather snowballs ever-more insistently. It’s an eyelid-wrenching, breathless exercise in forging an empathetic bridge between the nightmarish subjective reality of Tudor and the subjective reality of the lay viewer.

The movie expends so little energy on exposition, however, that the viewer doesn’t have the means to cultivate an emotional attachment with the characters. This isn’t necessarily a defect, but it means that they fade from memory moments after you leave the theater. The film director might counter that this was deliberately calculated for the sake of anonymity (i.e. they are purposely made to seem universally relatable). But even so, as I write this I can already feel these characters slipping away…

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