The whodunnit genre usually offers little of a moral dilemma for its protagonist, often a superbly rational Poirot character whose only goal is putting the pieces together and flaunting his evidence in the film’s epilogue. In the Romanian anti-thriller ‘One Floor Below’ however, the tables are turned when unlikely hero Patrascu (Teodor Corban) –a good-natured, wisecracking slob – is confronted with his own conscience in the aftermath of a possible homicide in his apartment building. Patrascu seems highly incapable of solving this murder mystery, due to an almost religious commitment to established routines, such as morning walks accompanied by cherished pet Labrador and rooting for the Barcelona squad in Champions League games with his drinking buddies.
The outside world is of little interest to him, which is highlighted stylistically by Muntean’s direction: there are repeated shots of Patrascu loafing around between doorways and pointlessly staring out of windows. His haphazard sleuthing attempts range from casual eavesdropping to social media gossip provided by his tech savvy son whose computer geek vernacular of Anglicisms further contribute to Patrascu’s alienation. At times the film feels like a successor of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, with cabin fever paranoia and the constant suggestion of secret plots: strange noises are heard at night, characters have the tendency of disappearing and reappearing and Patrascu’s occasional curiosity is nipped in the bud as doors are always being slammed in his face. Yet the most effective moment comes near the end, when a simple car registration turns into a bureaucratic nightmare similar to the stock exchange scene in L’Eclisse. This scene is followed by the film’s climax, a send-up of genre conventions, when the roles are reversed and the villain tries tapping into Patrascu’s moral conscience. The loose ends, however, are never tied and Patrascu remains adrift in a sea of indifference, truly befitting an Antonioni protagonist.