One Floor Below ★★★½

Why does Sandu keep quiet? This question is the real dramatic engine of “One Floor Below” and it lends a sense of suspense to even the blandest scenes of Sandu going about his boring job—he owns a small business helping people sort their vehicle registration (a kind of capitalist update to the stereotype of labyrinthine Soviet bureaucracy?). Eventually, Vali starts showing up unannounced at Sandu’s apartment, seeking out Sandu’s help with his own car registration, which creates another mystery: Why is Vali insinuating himself into the life of the man who suspects him of murder?

Neither of these mysteries gets a clear resolution, and yet it is a testament to the precision and psychological realism of Muntean’s approach that “One Floor Below” remains so compelling even in scenes that seem designed to bore and stupefy. This unexpected balance of tedium and suspense has been one of the most intriguing features of the Romanian New Wave, and “One Floor Below” often recalls the the impenetrable psychology of Cristi Puiu’s “Aurora” and the humdrum work scenes in Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective.” Like Porumboiu and Puiu, Muntean is able to generate a surprising amount of drama out of the simple observation of a man going about his daily life. The bland realism of these directors’ work foregrounds a rich and complicated question: “What is this man thinking?” And the refusal to provide a definitive answer presents an equally slippery question: “Can we ever really know what goes on in another person’s head?”

Full review at Red Carpet Crash