Romanian film review – Lives lost: Pororoca

The mysteriously titled Pororoca premiered last month and is still (scarcely) showing in Bucharest and several cities throughout the country. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. I have to warn you, though, this is not for the faint of heart (or for parents in general, some would say).

Pororoca is about a (seemingly) happy, well-off family with two adorable children. When the father takes the kids to the nearby park one day, it only takes a moment of losing sight of his daughter Maria for the child to disappear. What follows is the disintegration of not just a marriage and a family, but of the father’s sanity and sense of being. While the police are looking for the missing child, the parent, consumed by guilt, starts to take matters into his own hands, leading to an act of (plausible but nevertheless shocking) violence.

During its long running time (clocking in at two-and-a-half hours), Pororoca is very good at showing the event’s aftermath and if it may seem like dragging around the middle, it more than makes up for it at the end. The beginning is just as effective, with a masterful build-up to the moment the child is lost.

The best reason to watch the film though, beyond its excellent sense of timing and narration, is the acting. Everyone is very good, from the grieving wife (Iulia Lumânare, very moving) to the dispassionate, infuriatingly pedantic police officer (a great Constantin Dogioiu). But the film belongs to Bogdan Dumitrache as Tudor, the child’s father. This is dedicated, fearless acting, and watching him is a transfixing experience (the scene where he realizes Maria is lost, and particularly the last one, will stay with you for a long time).

Pororoca is a very bleak, hopeless film, and if the grueling actions leading up to its finale will not break your heart, then the visceral ending will do, and not just that, but leave you terrified in every sense. It’s hard to think of a more shocking scene in recent years, and also one of the best. Like almost everyone, I assume, I had to look up the title and it refers to a tidal bore in the Amazon river which can travel many kilometres into the mainland, with waves getting as high as four meters, a good metaphor for how a small moment may derail one’s life forever. For those going to cinema not just as a form of escapism, Pororoca is not to be missed.

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, [email protected]