What is Romanian for Le Havre?
MORGEN (Marian Crisan, Romania, 2011, 4)
… “In Portul” for the record, though even if Kaurismaki never existed, MORGEN would still feel like a tedious redundancy. Once you know this movie’s premise — everything is laid out for you and you see absolutely nothing that even threatens to deviate from the premise’s two genres, Grumpy Adult Bonds With Cute Moppet and Rich Westerner Experiences Moral Growth by Helping Smuggle a Poor Immigrant. The combination of these two genres probably convinced the Romanian Academy that submitting MORGEN would give their country its best chance at its first ever Foreign Film Oscar nomination (if so … they’d be correct, sad to say).
There IS a (pseudo-)twist in that the Cute Moppet is an adult, though Yilmaz Yacin is considerably smaller than Romanian Andras Hathazi and plays the Turkish immigrant as a frightened little boy. The fact that the Turk speaks no Romanian and the Romanian no Turkish means that there can be no real relationship between humans here. The film doesn’t subtitle the refugee’s words, so unless the repeated use of “Alleman” rings bells for you, you don’t have any idea what he’s pleading about. Admittedly, neither does the Romanian, but after a certain point that theoretically justifiable representation of non-communication simply becomes non-communication itself and blocks anything else from developing, particularly of the “humanistic” variety MORGEN seems to want.
A story between two non-communicative mutes (which is what we de facto have) can work as an outright farce or deadpan black comedy, like Kaurismaki at his best. And there are moments and scenes when Crisan hints in that direction and MORGEN temporarily spasms into life. The Turk gets across the border into Hungary as part of a soccer-supporters bus (police aren’t gonna check every cheering, drunken lout) but, rather than escape, comes back to the game and starts cheering the Romanian club in its “Ultras” section as things degenerate on the field and in the stands. Another ruse involves getting on a work team that will be painting the stripes on a border-spanning road. The first scene, at the Hungary-Romania border, also promises a pitch-black East European Bureaucracy Farce (the dawn scene is brilliantly lit so the border guards are faceless). But that kind of irreverence would get in the way of Author’s Message Homilies about “what’s he done to you,” on how “this is the EU now, there are no borders” and in giving the sadsack hero a bitch of a wife so she can say things only a bitch would say, like “he could be a terrorist, he could be carrying a disease, don’t you watch TV?” And then … what happens at the end … trying to be vague … if it was that easy, what was all the earlier complicated stuff about.