It’s the very first scene of the film and it already sets the tone for what is to follow: Clara is sitting on the couch watching something that is hidden from our view. We start hearing regular slapping noises and when the camera cuts to a wider shot, we see a middle-aged man with his pants down masturbating in front of the young woman whose face is motionless and detached. Our perspective is that of Lupu, a young man who is watching from a distance and whose mysterious tale of lust, desire and death is told in this spellbinding new film from Romania.
Lupu is an urban drifter in a scenery that almost exclusively consists of the insides of an old apartment building in Bucharest in summer. He spends his days wandering through the floors, following Clara or just hanging around in his room. Lupu doesn’t talk much and neither do the rest of the inhabitants of his house, which slowly turns into his own surreal universe. While the sun is constantly shining against yellow obscure glass windows and onto people who seem to have chosen their own captivity, the question of what is real and what isn’t becomes more and more pressing. Characters like Lupu’s dead father or the deceased wife of an old tenant turn out to be alive in Lupu’s world and while the loner strolls through the stuffy twilights of his house, we begin to question his reliability as the quasi-narrator of the film.
Clara for example seems to be a sexual focal point of Lupu’s attention and yet her story as a casual sex worker for older men seems as unlikely as her sudden attachment to Lupu. Director Bogdan Mustață has made a spectacularly slow and ultimately moody coming-of age film and manages to follow scenes of sizzling sexual tension with eerie moments of everyday urbanism. Lupu, the wolf, is not only a lone observer, a voyeur sometimes, but also seemingly on an instinct-driven hunt for situations of eroticism and death. Very much like the young urbanites in the early Polanski films like The Tenant, Repulsion or even Rosemary’s Baby, Lupu’s perception seems to be shifting the longer he chooses the inside over the outside. Mustață depicts that phantasm without big effects or shocks and simply creates the emerge of the uncanny through camerawork, lighting and an elliptic editing style.
Sometime later in the film, the initial scene of Clara on the couch is reprised, and by now we know that the old man, “the guy from the hotel” as she calls him, is the person she is in love with. But is she really? And is Lupu really in love with Clara, this equally mysterious, equally wolf-like woman? And is Lupu’s father actually sick, but still alive suffering somewhere in an apartment below? And has the old man who believes his wife just went out to get some groceries gone insane or is Lupu the mad one, when he actually meets her and watches her die? We are left with no answers or explanations and instead have to trust in the images we are presented and in the point-of-views we have to take on. The truth is somehow hidden from our view and opens another view on something more substantial: The mysteries of growing up, loving, longing… and dying.
Lupu, Romania 2013, 78 min.
Berlin screenings (Original with subtitles): Kino Krokodil