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BERLIN 2019 Forum

Review: Monsters.


- BERLIN 2019: Marius Olteanu’s tormented love story, screening in Forum, explores compromise and social pressure

Review: Monsters.
Cristian Popa and Judith State in Monsters.

Romanian director Marius Olteanu’s first feature, Monsters. [+see also:
interview: Marius Olteanu
film profile
, currently showing in the Forum sidebar of the 69th Berlinale, may well make a splash at Germany’s leading film event with its thoughtful and thought-provoking love story. The movie succeeds in engaging the audience with a discussion on the futility of love, but also on social pressure, compromise and the overwhelming noise that surrounds us in the modern world.

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Divided into three parts, the story, written by Olteanu, firstly follows Dana (Judith State, mainly known for the role of the protagonist’s wife in Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Cristi Puiu
film profile
), who arrives in Bucharest by train. We see her crying in a public toilet and then searching for a cab. Her conversation with the taxi driver (Alexandru Potocean) and an unexpected proposal stand as proof that she is at a crossroads in her life. In the second part, we follow Dana’s husband, Arthur (Cristian Popa), while the third part will show them together. 

Among the film’s strengths are not the big reveals or the big confrontations, but rather the extremely meticulous exploration of what the characters want, of what keeps them together, and of what may persuade them to favour a separation. Olteanu focuses on details that dare the audience to deconstruct the movie’s chronology (the events in the first two parts of the film happen simultaneously), finding meaning by joining together Dana and Arthur’s separate perspectives. The film works even without this effort on the audience’s part, but each perspective helps to paint a bigger overall picture, and to reveal the mystery of their drama and the scope of their challenge.

Conceived as a symphony for each of the protagonists and then as a duet, Olteanu’s screenplay is filled with a cacophony of secondary voices. From the noise in the train station to the taxi driver’s frantic search for a song on various radio stations, and from absurdist neighbourly small talk to the chatter at a baptism party, it seems that Dana and Arthur can never be alone with their thoughts. This racket, deftly controlled by sound designers Ioan Filip and Dan Ştefan Rucăreanu, is without doubt a finger pointed at the chaos of modern life, a life filled with irrelevant information and overwhelming noise.

Monsters. efficiently talks about social pressure and compromise, about how one has to toe the line of what others expect of him or her. It’s as if Dana and Arthur are wandering through a dangerous forest where wild animals keep trying to attack them only because this is what wild animals do. From this perspective, Şerban Pavlu appears as a big, bad wolf in an excellently written moment that stresses the pitfalls of casual gay sex. As we learn more about Dana and Arthur, it is not at all difficult to understand that they are not the titular monsters at all... 

Even if it’s not particularly new, Olteanu’s decision to shoot the first two chapters in a square format works perfectly on a symbolic level. Are we ever ready to make room for another person in our lives? Are we even able to welcome someone, truly seeing him or her not as an intruder, but as a partner on every possible level? Or, seen from another point of view, are we ever ready to let go and break out of the prison of the past, truly embracing a decision that irrevocably propels us into an unpredictable future? These are just some of the questions the audience may ask themselves after watching Monsters., a movie that prompts a personal investigation of the motives, compromises and expectations inherent in one’s own relationships.

Monsters. was produced by Romania’s Parada Film in co-production with Wearebasca. The film is being handled internationally by Alpha Violet. It will be released domestically by Transilvania Film, most probably after a national premiere in the selection of the next Transilvania International Film Festival (31 May-9 June).

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