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Pororoca:a review of an award winning Romanian thriller

The Pororoca is a monstrous and destructive tidal bore that travels upstream the Amazon River. This natural phenomenon is never mentioned in “Pororoca”, but the enigmatic title can be interpreted as an abstract metaphor for the corrosive effects of sudden, unexpected and destructive events in our lives.

What would you do if your child suddenly vanished?

Constantin Popescu’s “Pororoca” (2017) is constructed around this simple premise and it explores the nightmarish consequences for an upper middle class family in Bucharest. The horrors of not knowing what has happened to a missing loved one have rarely been told in such agonizing detail and in such a naturalistic style on screen.

This is not a mystery thriller like George Sluizer’s “Spoorloos” (1988) or a political drama like Costa-Gavras’ “Missing” (1982), where the audience has the privilege of getting to know what happened to the missing loved ones. Like his Romanian New Wave colleagues, director and screenwriter Popescu avoids established genre formula, simple solutions, spectacle, music and artifice to focus on the grinding daily experience of his rather ordinary characters. “Pororoca” never leaves the perspective of the male protagonist and we never know more than he does. Where is his daughter? What happened? Who is responsible? Will the police help him? Is it his fault? How does he live with this?

Unlike in movies, that exploit this scary situation as a thrilling entertainment with a ‘happy end’, in real-life this nightmare sometimes never ends and Popescu shows this without mercy. The police is doing their best work and – unlike in the thematically similar “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“ (2017) – the characters and we believe it. But if the best work of the police can’t solve such a case and bring your child back, what then? “Pororoca” is a study in the gradual erosion of sanity when not knowing, institutional helplessness and ambiguity slowly become unbearable.

Popescu’s third full-length feature film is his technically most accomplished yet, featuring virtuosic cinematography by Liviu Mărghidan, who creates long and complex sequence shots that feel organic and never choreographed like sometimes in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work. This naturalistic style is well complemented by the subtle acting. At the center of the film and in nearly every scene is Bogdan Dumitrache, who won the Silver Shell at the 65th San Sebastian IFF for his harrowing performance, and he’s supported by an equally accomplished cast,  especially the convincing Constantin Dogioiu and the intense Iulia Lumânare.

“Pororoca” is not an easy film to watch. It’s long, it’s slow, it’s demanding, it defies expectations, but it’s absorbing, suspenseful and grows in your mind long after you’ve seen it. The naturalism of the direction and cinematography, the emotional honesty of the acting and the maddening ambiguity of the screenplay make “Pororoca” more haunting than any horror movie, because a similar situation could very well happen to you, too. This is not the kind of film you consume to forget about reality. This is the kind of film, that consumes you and forces you to look closer at the fragility of your own life.

Highly recommended.


Reviewed at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Voices), Jan. 31, 2018.

Title: “Pororoca” (2017)

Technical Specs: 2 hours 32 minutes, Color, 2.35 : 1, DCP

Language: Romanian

Director & Screenwriter: Constantin Popescu. Cinematography: Liviu Mărghidan. Editor: Corina Stavilă. Producers: Liviu Mărghidan, Lissandra Hăulică, Ruxandra Flonta. Production Design: Oana Novicov. Sound: Vincent Arnardi Sound Design: Mihai Bogos

Cast: Bogdan Dumitrache, Iulia Lumânare, Constantin Dogioiu.Adela Mărghidan, Ştefan Răuş, Elvira Deatcu, Ioana Flora, Adina Lucaciu, Emanuel Pârvu, Izabela Neamţu, Dragoş Olaru, Angel Popescu, Mircea Gheorghiu.

Production Company: Scharf Film, Irreverence Films (Romania-France)

Release Date: Jan. 19, 2018 (Romania)