Director Radu Muntean previously made Tuesday, After Christmas, the story of a seemingly well-intentioned man who just so happened to have a wife and a mistress whom he loved equally. Muntean’s latest, One Floor Below, also favors ambiguity, but it pushes the limit of what this national cinema has done in terms of murky motivations. It’s a story of murder in which there’s no real investigation and no grand moment of revelation about the culprit. Instead, there’s only guilt—and, surprisingly, a queasily growing bond between the killer and the man who believes he heard the crime happen.
Teodor Corban plays Patrascu, a 50-something man with a unique job. He’s a go-between for drivers who need to update their vehicle registration or other matters. (They pay him to deal with the paperwork and government red tape.) Patrascu’s profession turns out to be an oddly perfect metaphor for the man in general: He’s a valuable but invisible cog in the world.
Living a humdrum life with a wife and son, Patrascu becomes intrigued by a couple in his building, especially when he hears them fighting loudly behind closed doors one day. Immediately after the seemingly violent encounter, the 30-something man, Vali (Iulian Postelnicu), steps out of the apartment, and he and Patrascu share a brief, tense, wordless exchange before going their separate ways. Soon after, Patrascu learns that the woman, Laura, has been found dead. Did Patrascu overhear a murder?
Like Tuesday, After Christmas, One Floor Below builds to an emotional catharsis that’s intimate, intricate, gloriously messy, wonderfully staged. If this movie is merely a minor entry in the Romanian canon, it’s a testament to how spectacular a hot streak these likeminded filmmakers have been on.