Connect with us
Marius Olteanu Monsters.


Monsters. | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Monsters. | 2019 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Time to Leave: Olteanu’s Debut Examines the Strain of Sacrifice in Studied Marital Drama

Marius Olteanu Monsters.The relationship at the center of Romanian director Marius Olteanu’s carefully observed debut, Monsters. strongly suggests, like many scenarios of its ilk, love and marriage hardly go together like a horse and carriage. His title, pursued by a period, is a definitive statement on the troubling human tendencies which wound and mar, but who exactly are the monsters? The significant sacrifice of this man and woman, the dimensions of which are fully realized in the final frames, refracts the titular foreboding—perhaps it is all of us who can be termed as such, as we all partake in the raving throng of environment, religion, etiquette and tradition which defines a culture (here, the rigid social constructs alive and well in post-Communist Romania). In the end, it’s the resiliency acquired via individuality and not the blind devotion to institution which allows for fulfillment rather than survival.

On one particularly desolate night, Dana (Judith Slate) seems anxious to avoid going home, chatting with her taxi driver (Alexandru Potocean) as they wile away the night. Stationed outside her apartment building, she offers to pay him to sit with her until the morning as she observes who comes in and out of the building. Resisting her offer, they’re interrupted by her neighbors, and a phone call from her husband of ten years, Arthur (Cristian Popa). As we progress into Arthur’s perspective, we learn he spent the evening also avoiding being at home, instead meeting another man on a gay hook-up app. Eventually, Dana and Arthur return home to face one another. Amidst what seems like the death throes of their relationship, they attend a baby shower for a mutual friend and contemplate the future, or lack thereof.

Of its three distinct parts, wherein Olteanu plays with aspect ratios (suggesting when by ourselves we are emulsified in our own private bubble), its Arthur’s segment which seems most enlightening, if mostly because an exploration of multifaceted sexuality is hardly a staple of Romanian cinema. A decidedly awkward and unfulfilling Grindr hook-up with an older, fussy gentleman (Radu Jude regular Serban Pavlu) lodged precariously in the closet provides an insight into the limited proclivities of queer men of a certain age in contemporary Romania. Off-putting and denied a certain level of intimacy he seeks, it’s the juncture with which Arthur’s introduction coincides with Dana’s, driven back to the comfort of their familiarity and emotional co-dependence. Theirs isn’t so much a marriage of convenience but of shared ideals.

There’s a shared weariness evident in the strained expressions of the couple, and yet a palpable tenderness, thanks mostly to the subtle melancholy of both Cristian Popa and Judith State (who made her debut in Cristi Puiu’s sprawling familial ensemble Sieranevada in 2016). Dana faces the standard cultural pressures of a staunch heteropatriarchy, a woman in her forties who hasn’t produced a child yet helplessly must engage in the clucking din of a group of mothers at a baby shower. Her awkward, extended exchange is with a flirtatious taxi driver who seems hellbent on reawakening her addiction to cigarettes. Even her respite in this paid exchange is interrupted by the heteronormative, her taxi commandeered by her banal neighbors, rushing to the hospital to give birth.

Theirs isn’t so much a revelation of grand secrets but an eventual reckoning with an inevitability they’ve both been avoiding. Though not distressing, Monsters. is particularly wistful in its contemplations of a necessary ending. But neither is it a film without hope, its couple left to ponder the possibilities of a future without one another, growing from their failed union and into something separate, exciting, new and potentially authentic.

Reviewed on February 9th at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. Forum Program. 116 Mins.

★★★½ /☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top