The film Bucharest Non-Stop, by the director D. Chişu (2015), unfolds under the auspices of a fundamental disturbance of both the capacity for intrapsychic association and the relational capacity of the characters. The body and corporeality are representable in the act of temporality from “here and now” to eternity. Time dilates in a night that in one view seems unprecedented, and in another seems pathognomonic for a certain time and certain places of a Bucharest that is projected in a loop of events. Corporeality takes the form of life dying out in a natural death and, at the same time, unexpectedly, it takes the form of the commercialization of carnality (in the version of prostitution), or it takes the amorphous form of a teddy bear, which immortalizes childhood in waiting. Corporeality can be ridiculously priced or it can be priceless. We notice manifestations that resist interpretation, remnants and fragments of experience, which return insistently. We find apparently mysterious actions, which have been represented in the metaphor of the Bucharest collectivity of the last years and which bring into question the well-known Freudian speculative speech, regarding the dynamics of the principles of pleasure and death. At the same time, the film reflects the understanding of how the mind works in borderline situations, as well as the intrapsychic realities coexisting with trauma. Deep down, there is a dark humor, in which the characters seem to be continually striving to recover other resonances, located at various distances between tragedy and trauma.
Starting from Steinkogler’s remark that psychotic actions or texts can be considered an inverse of tragedy, the film Bucharest Non-Stop tests the possibility of a being with a typical life processing trauma through tragic scenarios (Perner, Sprung & Steinkogler, 2004). In other words, “trauma and culture are inter-related” (Drozdek, 2007).
In all storylines, we identify the social, the cultural, the norms of small collectivities that suggest moral, immoral or amoral “castes”, the film being about the “awareness of the cultural relativity of the standards of normality and abnormality”, as well as about the “cultural determination of personality, through variations in education, social processes, conceptions of the person and the value structures of the belonging group” (Bala & Kramer, 2010). What is normal and what is abnormal in Bucharest viewed non-stop becomes the product and result of culture (Kroeber & Kluckhorn, 1952), containing “references to how rules are preformed, experienced and transmitted”, all happening involuntarily and informally (Drozdek, 2007).
Culture is, according to Bala, “presented externally through artifacts, roles and institutions, as well as represented internally through values, beliefs, attitudes, cognitive styles, epistemologies and conscious patterns” (Bala & Kramer, 2010). Culture influences “individual expression and perception of the ways in which distress is expressed in contact with trauma” (Kleinman, 1988). Although one would expect shame or guilt to be the first response to the traumatic events presented in the script, a kind of circumstantial stupor envelops the characters. The film emphasizes the idea that the values and norms of the market economy are substituted for personal values, in societies based on individualism and liberalism.
The aberrant psychic formations expressed by the characters represent, in each storyline, a precarious response to a crisis situation. The trauma of the concerned person is considered the initiator of a chain reaction, which affects the existing subconscious formations, according to the model of the domino game, ending up limiting/disrupting the functioning of thought and affect.
The desire of all presented is to overcome shame and fear, but these realities are shaped by “the impact of politics, economics, and other social issues” (Drozdek, 2007). “Analyzing characters means taking something apart to understand it. Systems thinking involves putting that something in the context of a larger whole” (Capra, 1996). We find, exploring the dynamics of actions, what Janoff-Bulman calls changes in personal beliefs, dissociative moments, breaks in the continuity and evolution of the victims’ personality, as well as hidden depression” (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).
The subjective meaning of each storyline will determine the traumatogenesis of the story. Key events in the film may resonate with childhood trauma, which causes the characters’ inability to regulate their affects, somatizations and alexithymia. Common defenses include: denial, minimization, internal splitting, avoidant projection, dissociation and blame (as helplessness mechanisms). The preferred way of relating to others involves the projection and introjection of the following roles: omnipotent rescuer, abuser and victim (Sadock, Sadock & Ruiz, 2014). For example, in the merged relationship between the two elderly spouses, intermediality is the condition of those in purgatory. The film emphasizes the idea of the inevitability of the bizarre transformation of the personality when faced with the threat of death. “The relationship with one’s own internal reality of those in this critical moment is affected” (van der Kolk, 2014), suggesting that no more ways can be found to reactivate “the self-sensing system” (van der Kolk, 2014).
In all scenarios developed in parallel in the film, the traumatic triggering event is understood as a destabilization that calls into question the axiological system of the “before” person, proposing a series of cognitive and behavioral alterations, which throw the individual into a systemic crisis. The characters experience reality as if they were no longer themselves. Their vitality is affected, the conception of existence changes dramatically in a short time, the personality is assaulted from inside by compulsively repeated impulses/episodes, with the indispensability of some pseudo-rituals, which are, however, fragmentary, difficult to understand and unable to restore the symbolic unity of the person. The Ego fragments resist by mobilizing a series of bizarre experiences, which hinder the character’s ability to act and express themselves, to have consistency and coherence (at the climax of each situation, the characters seem to experience oneiric states). However, although the agony of each story leads to the destruction of the primordial unity of the person, what needs to be recovered is the affective investment in the uniqueness of the existential project of the being in question, and not in actual, pure and fundamental unity. Anthropologist Young speaks of such inner affects as “only a phase in the dynamic process of individual adaptation to the vicissitudes of life, and not a final and well-constructed diagnosis” (Young, 2008).
The characters have disturbing flashbacks that leave them disoriented and emotionally impoverished, frozen. This impulse insufficiency must be accepted as the starting point of an aesthetic engagement: the bizarre rhythm that accompanies and indicates the speech related to the trauma or the silence that accompanies it is an indication of paradoxical and contradictory states, which develop dialectically and tragically. “Language gives us the power to change ourselves and to change others by communicating our experiences, helping us define what we know as well as find a shared sense of meaning” (van der Kolk, 2014). The characters use not only verbalization, but also image and corporeality to explore tensions and contradictions. Moreover, “one’s pain must be felt at least once by the other, in order to be registered as such and for an ego-body to be raised as an immediate support in the first instance” (Gherovici & Steinkoler, 2015).
“Feeling relieved after externalizing the discomfort due to traumatic experiences seems to be a universal phenomenon that does not depend on culture” (Drozdek, 2007), as a trauma done in public must be repaired in the world’s view, so that narcissistic rehabilitation to have durability and value. The film Bucharest Non-Stop leaves us with the impression of a problematized tragedy, of a perpetual state of crisis, which does not offer an alternative logic for the description of contemporary conflicts. We are presented with the context of a world whose existence seems regulated by the logic of war and the Law of Talion (in Latin, lex talionis), a world divided between “idea and counter-idea, left or right ideology, conservatives and progressives, believers and non-believers, freedom fighters and terrorists” (Critchley, 2019). Contemporaneity seems “caught in a cycle of bloody revenge and captive in the vicious tumult of pain and rage caused by suffering” (Critchley, 2019).
If the logic of Hollywood films proposes easy solutions, represented by the trajectory of a hero who finally manages to solve the crisis, tragedy proposes an apparently reversed perspective: “the hero is not the solution to the problem, but the problem itself” (Critchley, 2019). Comparing contemporary drama fictions with tragic issues, Critchley emphasizes the idea that sentimentality and the idealization of violence do not resolve real tensions and do not recover the “tragic dialectic of political situations” (Critchley, 2019). On the contrary, thanks to these fictions, “we not only fail to notice our involvement in the violence and aggression expressed macrosocially in wars, but we deny it completely” (Critchley, 2019). What this film brings to the fore is the confrontation with grief and disorder, and the logic of passivity in the face of such contemporary events highlights the implicit cooperation of the human being in the outbreak of social catastrophes. Black humor blurs the line between life and death (Critchley, 2019) and is a suitable tool for transforming traumatic affects into characters.
The vitality of phantasm.
The force of corporeality
Bucharest Non-Stop is a status film, which concentrates the entire action between the dusk of a random summer evening and the dawn of the next morning. The first image is that of the mess in Jeni’s (prostitute’s) room, which symbolizes searching, overturning, so that you can later turn your life upside down. The scene is doubled by the pretense in the voice to the child, a huge, shoddy bag, into which random clothes are tossed, and ends with her fixing herself in the black corset, which is an extra backbone, like a protection against life. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is the prostitute who asks: “Do you have any cables?”, as a symbol of the search for human inter-connectivity, for which she, ungrateful to a society, is the one who guarantees. “It’s definitely the battery” symbolizes the search for the essence, the life-giving energy.
The film captures antitheses: good guys – bad guys, honest world – underworld, Achim, the boy from the non-stop store, being the main character, always available, to whom the momentary needs of others converge. In all four couples (the colonel’s family, the couple of the two thieves, the couple of the two Roma partners and the couple made up of the prostitute and the taxi driver), we find betrayal. The characters themselves say “Make it seem real”, as in the film they know they are playing a part. A kind of focus in the quadrants, where in the end everyone loses their identity, so that the women, from Jeni and Dora, wear a no name. We find the reason for delusion in the pension slip sought and invested, in the money earned dishonestly through perverse staging, in the abuse of corporeality for the generation and exploitation of pleasure.
In the scene describing the family from the underworld, we find Giani the manipulator, the image of the camera moving closer and focusing on the little girl that suggests a niece invested in the family, who, from a distance, looks like a marionette doll. We find servility, with its playful version, in the statement of Dora’s friends: “The moment one loves you, you become his slave”. Diminutives like “Dorica” are spoken either cartoonishly (when her lover hits the window with a stone), or loaded with something heavy (when spoken by the colonel at the time of his wife’s death).
Harmless statements or repetitive and usual actions are given symbolic arrogations, such as the food offered to puppies or the statement: “If you don’t have a code, you don’t enter!”. As if the access to a whole world of the soul is marked by a cipher, beyond which the whole life seems non-stop located under the sign of chance. Vulgarity is presented nonchalantly in an exaggerated manner, stripping the characters of morality or criticism, exegesis or Superego. People are perpetually ambivalent about their choices, from nonchalantly giving out their own house passcode to worrying about “I gave it to her wrong!” and to the point of suspicion: “What will she do to me, will she take everything from my house...”. The expressions “fucking” and “my father’s pension”, although in such different concrete planes, centripetally suggest the idea of nothingness. As if representing phrases in the range “X or 0”.
The relationship in the family of the elderly best presents hyper-analyzability in the slow-motion unfolding of the actions of everyday life, actions that are doubled by banal questions, which contain the verbalization of every thought and every affect: “Who’s there? Is that you? Why don’t you answer me when I call you?”; “And why didn’t you tell me too?” At the end of existence, putting the steps into words becomes similar to the initiatory moments of life, when “speaking” gives a name to the experiences. In old age, people essentialize their emotions in their thinking, duplicating every little jolt of spirit with the idea. The house, changing the door lock, the tangentiality of Mrs. Antonescu’s expressions when her thoughts run from stray dog to Japanese and the dissection into hilarious questions are the last strongholds that the old man defends in the face of death, whose outline, more and more often, foreshadows. In terms of artistic interpretation, we are talking about black humor, while at the level of mentalization we find the absurd: to barricade oneself in one’s own existence with psychotic anxieties related to the body that must be found as soon as possible after death: “We have no one, no one has the key!” At the limit, we find a caricature that has no other purpose than to face death and demonstrate that all struggles for power are illusory and fleeting: “And what do you pretend now, to hold a referendum? Do you think the Japanese was bitten by a dog from A entrance or a dog from B entrance?” The search for truth to the core, the apportionment of guilt, the non-involvement beyond responsibility per se become useless after a certain number of years after the occurrence of a tragedy.
In a scene halfway through the film, we find symbolic clarifications with an anchor role in the most banal gestures: gum must be professional, the artificial is the center of existence, and cables and the Nokia charger, as energy symbols, are sought after even at a high price. One of the key metaphors is being on one side or the other of the window that symbolizes access to non-stop vitality. Metaphorical is also the scene in which, upon leaving the last client and the prostitute’s desire to start a new life, she offers her shoe to the taxi driver, according to the modern model of Cinderella who wants to be saved. The taxi driver betrays, as one character in each couple always does, followed by an unremarkable attempt to place the blame: “My battery went dead, you made me give them the cables!” To guarantee to return in a split second, through the mechanism of betrayal, in the posture of being guilty.
At the same time, in the night, non-stop, tragic phenomena hide. The quality music (cult), listened to by Giani in the car, verges on the borders of Goering’s sadism, while the dying colonel says to his wife, with a hint of punishment: “You always told me that if you died before me, there would be no one to light a candle for you”/ “Well, yes, because you’ve been immobilized in bed for four years!” The intermezzo of the story with Mrs. Marinescu, who is cared for by a couple of young people who brought her food every day, but dies sinisterly in the explosion of a firecracker about which she knows nothing, expresses the constitutional ambivalence of the human being, which in old age crochets in the mind suspicions, projects guilt and aggression, as if the happiness and vitality of the young couple could forcefully kill the joie de vivre of an old and lonely woman.
In old age, being able to eat meat has a profound meaning, whether you’re looking at it literally or metaphorically. Couples live by ruminations on past decisions, good or bad, which now take on new and amplified meanings: abortion, the idea of being forced, guilt, touching subjects (which becomes tantamount to touching parts of the soul), jealousy, infidelity, the uncertainty of paternity: “You forced me! For 45 years we keep saying that we won’t touch this subject anymore, that you weren’t sure it was yours... Is it my fault that you left me alone for months?!”
The non-stop store can be assimilated to a cage, in relation to which one can place oneself outside or inside and which, always, someone must enter or must exit. Death seems to be looked at with serenity, as an innocuous event, some sort of accident, like the “visit” of the prostitute to a client, a night raid or a betrayal. The colonel tells how his mother washed and tiffed herself out before she died. His own wife, dying unprepared, loses the final competition with her mother-in-law. Her last words were: “End of discussion (discussion that lasted for 45 years, namely that of procreation), tomorrow or the day after tomorrow you will also be gone and there will be no one to light a candle at the head of the bed for me. That’s because I can’t rely on you, neither in this world nor in the other!” Many of the characters, their actions or their experiences seem “fake” (the tone of voice in different situations, the clothes, the cheap products from the non-stop store, the opera listened to by Giani, the money, the stolen car, the apparent luxury). In the same category would enter the light of the candle versus the light of the flashlight and the thousands of lighthouses under which Bucharest trembles non-stop.
Non-stop Bucharest essentially explains the ambivalence of the human being, the duplicity and duality of experiences being apotheosized in a grotesque and externalized way: love-hate, friendship-quarrel, being together by conjuncture. The identity card becomes a guarantee, but at the same time it doesn’t matter who it belongs to and it doesn’t matter who you really are. Non-stop equals being able to be anyone, anywhere, in a dissipated existence. The black Audi is a sign of opulence. The contrast between “I cracked my head!”/ “Did the leather on the car get stained?” highlights once again the feeling of fakeness that is present all the time, in the attempt to distinguish between the truth and its opposite. “Let’s call the police!” it is a failed attempt to demarcate between theft and reality.
Linked to the body and corporeality, Dora smokes because ambivalence reigns: “I haven’t decided whether to keep it (the child)...” In parallel, Mrs. Antonescu dies on the background of cartoon voices, while the colonel asks “Did you come?”, and the camera focuses on the cross on the wall, later the painting with their marriage from their youth. The only things that seem authentic in this context are the horror on the face of the colonel in the face of death, the bag with the “odds and ends” of life and the teddy bear, which becomes an imaginary body for an invested child. At the same time, an ad hoc couple gets 5 RON for condoms as a gift from Achim, along with his curiosity: “And what did you say your name was?” Under the appearance of an innocuous night, the image of the mother is outlined, as it is found in the collective mind, alongside xenophobia. Cables, as a sign of human inter-connectivity, are given and taken.
The question remains, in each of these couples: In whom is the issue or the desire born first? Which of the spouses decides to break the connecting cables with the world, to change the door? The keys to the new door lock are hidden; the phone number is temporarily suspended... The mixture of one’s own crying with the laughter on the television forms a mix that in the agony of trauma sounds like a hallucinatory verbiage. The colonel overturns the house, in the same way that the prostitute overturns her bag at the beginning of the film, when it is not clear whether what she is looking for is the candle or the keys that represent the exit from the labyrinth of the situation. The caricature appearance of the common phrase, according to which “old people lose their mind”, is found when the camera focuses on the keys, and Jerry on the TV says with the ingenuity of a child and the joy of discovering the solution: “Done, I found it!”
In the statement: “Did she want to be a whore, man? Someone took her away by force from Botoşani and sold her in Spain!” the idea is repeated: In whose head is desire first born? The Roma character stereotypically and repetitively asks most of those they interact with throughout the film, “Don’t you happen to have a phone?”, as an attempt to re-establish connections with the world. Achim poses as the universal sage, who understands everything at once and symbolically walks into people’s phones, as he tries to walk into their lives. In the scenes where Dora’s friends pretend to be her, the otherness of the woman’s corporeality appears, like a splitting of the Ego into pros and cons, disguised as echoes that amplify voices. To give the entrance code means to give the green light to break into someone’s life. The image of “fake” can be found again in the construction of a situation in Achim’s mind, a situation that involves emotions, tears and marriage: “Should someone from the non-stop store ask me to be his wife?!”. The existence or non-existence of the bouquet of flowers expresses the uncertainty of choice, at the limit the uncertainty of life, the uncertainty of the option to conceive or not a new being.
Communications are always interrupted at key points, there are “proxies” between people: friends or some others speak on behalf of those involved, suggesting warped mirrors that magnify in a distorted manner, there are disconnected phones, dead batteries, conversations stopped just as the important thing is about to be said. And the high tide: “Leave that damn teddy bear alone!” After he betrays, the taxi driver magnifies his guilt by saying “I’ll take you, I’ll stop on the road and get you a teddy bear!”, as if money could replace lives and at any time, any terrible gesture could be cancelled out by its opposite. The character who serves at the non-stop store poses into a repairing Self-God: “I’ll talk to the boys and send this guy off with a flea in his ear!” Although in practice he does nothing but throw out these words, they symbolize delusion, hope, the promise of an illusory better future.
Achim always realizes the tragedy at a later time, being blind to what is really happening in the dark boutique, which in itself represents a trace of light: “I have no candles... Did you run out of electricity? What is Mrs. Antonescu doing?” He is in huge role confusion between a dead lantern/dead neighbor when he wishes for good health. Realizing the tragedy après-coupe, he sets off on a frantic search until he finds two burnt candles. Nothing is new, nothing is genuine (the money is fake, the candles are not whole). Needing euros, like going to Spain, are illusions. There is a death happening in the flat below. In the flat above, Dora and her boyfriend end up having wild sex.
Mrs. Antonescu is not defined in the film by other qualities than by the association with the last evil for which she is held responsible, the attachment for the stray dog that bit the Japanese. Perhaps not coincidentally, when Achim talks about her, a dog appears in the frame, barking is heard throughout the neighborhood, the phone rings, dawns appear, and Jerry says: “Done, I know!” instead of the aphasic old man. “She died!” is the last word in the film, while the song at the end suggests illusion, delusion and, for the uninitiated, hope: “I close my eyes dreaming of a drop of water on my lips...”
(To be continued)