Despite making its way into any number of films since it was recorded by The Doors in 1967, no one has employed “Light My Fire” in quite the way that Alexandru Belc does in “Metronom,” with Ray Manzarek’s undulating organ solo following Ana (Mara Bugarin) from one to another in her friend Roxana’s family flat while her parents are away, leaving the place for the teenagers to invite over friends from high school and dance. The party would be kept a secret under any circumstances, but in October of 1972, but the need to be discrete could mean the difference between life and death when Nicolae Ceaușescu’s grip on Romania had tightened to the point that any gathering was likely to be monitored by the state. Ana would already seem to be thinking in these terms when the song starts to play, though not for any fear of being arrested, instead being unsure of how to approach her boyfriend Sorin (Serban Lazarovichi), who informed her he’ll soon be making his escape from the country. As one might imagine Jim Morrison writhing on stage in an ecstatic stupor, Ana has no such agency in “Metronom,” making a decision for herself to sneak out to Roxana’s party in the first place after her parents forbid it but confronted with a host of other choices she is not yet ready to make at 17 as it becomes clear she’ll have to fight for her freedom on a variety of fronts.
The threats may not be immediately apparent in “Metronom,” but their impact is in the chilling narrative debut feature from Belc, a former assistant director to the likes of Cristian Mungiu and Corneliu Porumboiu who films Ana within a square frame and proceeds to see her squeezed from every angle. Starting out as a tale of disillusioning first love, the drama becomes something else revolving around what appears to be a rather innocent activity at the party where everyone pitches in a song request for Cornel Chiriac, the host of the popular radio hour “Metronom,” which now airs on Radio Free Europe after the deejay fled Romania. While there’s plenty of fun in debating the merits of whether it’s better to include Jimi Hendrix or Blood, Sweat and Tears, actually getting this message to Chirac with some covert handoff reveals the serious stakes involved and in tying Ana’s political consciousness with her tenuous steps towards adulthood, a feeling of powerless in one realm can poison another.
Belc brilliantly structures “Metronom” as if it is a swinging pendulum, laying out the world as Ana has grown up to see it before coming to understand what it truly is, making the sense that her innocence is lost truly damning when she comes into contact with various tentacles of the government and realizes the extent of their reach. Deciding where and when to question authority, whether it is the police, parents or the wishy-washy Sorin, who may be boldly revolutionary publicly but far more timid privately, becomes the film’s animating tension and the writer/director who is clearly aware of how to use time cinematically, immersively letting the entirety of a 45 play during a scene on occasion, creates a steady build in “Metronom” where one feels the pressure on Ana becoming untenable. Still, what’s stifling for Ana is the mark of a taut drama in which the political becomes personal in unshakeable ways.
“Metronom” will screen again at Cannes on May 25th at the Debussy Theatre at 8:30 am and the Cineum Auroreat 5:30 pm and on May 26th at the Cineum Screen X at 2 pm.