San Sebastian Film Review: ‘Pororoca’ – Variety

The Pororoca, for those not up to speed on their Amazonian geography, is a vast tidal bore that can travel up to 500 miles inland on the great South American river, its waves gathering considerable height and momentum as they move upstream. That might seem an extraneous fact, given that the eponymous natural phenomenon is neither featured nor mentioned at any point in Romanian director Constantin Popescu’s cryptically titled third feature — but “Pororoca” is a simmering, gradually harrowing film heavy on incidental information at the frayed edges of its drama. It’s for viewers to figure out how things fit, or don’t, into its shattered portrait of a family man undone by his daughter’s unexplained disappearance, as his rage and grief accumulate their own destructive tidal force. The Romanian New Wave has never seemed quite so bluntly apt a term.

Premiering in competition at San Sebastian, this is muscular hard-art fare that, with a fair wind and following sea on the festival circuit, could propel Popescu into the upper ranks of his country’s auteurs — among them Cristian Mungiu, one of his co-helmers on 2009’s “Tales from the Golden Age” portmanteau pic, for which Popescu remains better known internationally than either of his previous features. Anyone expecting the darkly droll comic tone of that project, or Popescu’s 2010 sophomore feature “Principles of Life,” from “Pororoca” is in for a stony surprise: Barrelling despair is the dominant emotional tenor in a film likeliest to prompt narrative and tonal comparisons to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s recent Cannes prizewinner “Loveless.” That, combined with the director’s lower profile and a testing (but never tedious) 153-minute runtime, makes “Pororoca” a tough sell to distributors, though probable festival acclaim and awards would help in that regard.

For the opening reels, at least, everything in the Ionescu household seems pretty peachy by the standards of…

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