Review by Sean Boelman
Some thrillers hit the ground running, and others quietly creep under your skin in a way that makes it all the more impactful when it finally sinks its teeth in. The latter is the case with Alexandru Belc’s Metronom, a taut and powerful Romanian film that premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Set in Romania in 1972, the movie follows a young couple who spend their last days together before one of them leaves the country permanently. And while this may sound like just another Romeo & Juliet-type story about two star-crossed lovers, there is far more to Belc’s story than it initially lets on.
While the first half of the film plays like a hangout movie — and one with great vibes, at that — the second half is among the most excruciatingly intense you will experience in any movie this year. The film will easily have you on the edge of your seat with anxiety, wondering if the characters are going to make it out of this situation or not, because no one is safe.
Part of what makes the movie so effective is that it gives you this sense of security early on. It’s a bunch of people having fun and dancing, and it gives you the time necessary to get attached to these characters and their personalities and get wrapped up in everything that they care about, no matter how trivial.
But all along there is this threat in the background looming — the one that will tear apart our lover protagonists — and for anyone aware of the social context of the setting (or the title), it will be clear what is to come. And once it does finally hit, it is absolutely devastating, shaking you to your core.
The acting all-around is stellar, but it is Mara Bugarin and Vlad Ivanov who stand out the most. Bugarin is fantastic as the heroine, not quite as politically extreme as some of the other characters who are here to give the film its message but still in firm opposition to what is wrong. On the other hand, Ivanov is menacing as the duplicitous oppressor.
What Belc has to say here about freedom of speech is fascinating, especially in the context of what is going on in Europe (and the world as a whole) right now. It’s terrifying to think that there are still places where this is happening half a century later, but Belc issues an urgent call-to-action about the importance of this freedom.
Alexandru Belc’s Metronom is one of the most impactful movies of the year so far — starting as a charming hangout film before evolving into something much more complex and harrowing. As it continues to tour the festival circuit, make sure to seek this one out, because it is not a movie you will soon forget.
Metronom debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard section.