I certainly do not want to get political here, but cops as a rule have a certain extent of power that we as common folk typically do not enjoy. It is often a plot point in many thriller movies that we sit and watch the officer harasses suspects or perhaps uses some shady tactics in order to get their man (or woman). It’s common, heck it’s probably in film school 101 and some might even see it as a bit cliché. Today’s film is Unidentified, a Romanian film where a detective enters a very grey area in order to catch the perpetrator. It’s also the first film in a trilogy. Yes, you read that right but more on that later. Let’s take a look.
We see the sprawling countryside of Romania. It shifts to trees and then to lots of houses and businesses. We arrive at the city, time is 2:45 PM and Florin Iespas (played by Bogdan Farcas) is looking at some grisly photographs of burn victims along with a picture of a suspect. At the bosses office, he talks to Comisar Sef (played by Vasile Muraru) about the case which actually doesn’t belong to him. The case belongs to another cop named Radu who happens to be away on a vacation.
The boss jokes that Florin is way too serious. Comisar will soon be going on holiday himself to the Loire Valley in France. Florin pleads with him to just give him a few days to inspect the burned hotels, that it had to be done for the insurance money. Furthermore, the owner of the hotels, Dumitrascu has one more hotel up at Bisericani. Unfortunately, Comisar Sef denies him and tells him to put the file back where he found it.
The second that Florin leaves the bosses office, he asks the secretary, Luzica (played by Olimpia Malai) to copy the file for him. She says no to the request and that she needs permission from Radu before she can do such a thing. Florin pitches a fit and storms out to presumably put the file away where it belongs. Instead, he just runs down the hall and copies the file himself at another copier.
Florin, ignoring the words of his Comisar secretly brings in the lead suspect, Banel (played by Dragos Dumitru) for questioning. Banel says he doesn’t understand why he is being brought in again and just works as security for the hotel as well as a local convenience store. He has no ulterior motive and works for his mother who can’t even get out of bed. Florin continues to interrogate the man of Roma descent, but he denies everything. He even denies being able to read. Seemingly out of leads, Florin must consider to what lengths he will go to in order to solve this case.
The film is a wonderful character study of Florin Iespas. He is a morally grey character and its not evident until almost an hour and a half into the movie how deep he is willing to go in order to get the result he desires. The film is a slow (very) burn and it’s only at the utmost right point do you actually understand his plan which is impossible to predict (even though the clues are right there).
The supporting characters do a good job of building up the world around Florin and gives us plenty to choose on. As mentioned in the opening, this is the first film in a trilogy of films. As the director explains in his commentary, this is a shared universe of films meaning the lead characters and style have the potential of changing while the overall location does not. Minor characters become major characters and leads might disappear entirely.
Speaking of the commentary, it’s actually one of the better ones I have listened to all year. Bogdan George Apetri actually speaks extremely good English (because as he explains it he has one foot in Romania and one foot in the United States) and does an excellent scene by scene explanation of the movie with a couple of anecdotes thrown in for good measure. He further explains the trilogy concept and how the next film Miracle plays into this plans. It’s a very worthwhile listen.
In addition to the commentary, there are two deleted scenes also provided. The first of which goes back to the copier scene I explained earlier. Honestly, I think it should have stayed in. The second however deals with Florin examining the burn scene at one of the destroyed motels and this one probably was better off staying on the cutting room floor. In addition, as the usual for Film Movement discs, this has a few extra trailers including Miracle.
Unidentified won a few awards in both Romania and Poland, it unfortunately did not get much play outside of those two countries, mostly due to the pandemic running wild and this picture not getting the exposure it deserved. In fact, this film did not get a disc release until after the second film, Miracle who already had a dvd in September of this year. The first film in the trilogy is excellent, so good in fact that it made me instantly eager to see the second film. In fact, I would urge Film Movement to consider a blu-ray (not dvd) boxset of the three films once all of them are released. This gets a very high recommendation from me, I never knew Romanian film could be so satisfying. Enjoy.
By the way, if you have read this far, as always thank you and as a special treat, I will be reviewing Miracle in the coming weeks thanks to Film Movement. Here is hoping that is as good as the first.