Unidentified: Forgotten Differences Between Good and Bad

Everything starts with death. It doesn’t make Unidentified (Neidentificat, 2020) different from other detective movies where a lonely policeman follows the track of the crime. But is it really the goal to solve it? Bogdan George Apetri takes the viewer for what looks like a slow ride and ultimately hits the brakes hard with a surprise ending. 

In a small town in Romania, police inspector Florin Iespas (Bogdan Farcaș) asks his superior to work on the case of the mysterious burning of two hotels and the death of two victims. The inspector seems to have a plan, and seems unusually motivated to get to the bottom of things. His first move is the brutal interrogation of young Romani Banel (Dragos Dimitru), who works for the hotel’s owner. He believes the man knows more than he says. 

Florin is meticulous, detail-oriented and carefully writes down observations on the case. While rude, he’s often the one to side with the victims. He constantly listens to classical music, a hint of his real obsession, which slowly rises to the surface along with the big debt he owes and the unresolved issues with his wife. The things that Florin hides multiply to the extent that the main enigma of the film becomes the man himself and his motivation. At some point, his actions are hard to understand but the promise of the future answer is enough to wait. 

To build up the central mystery, and to present and penetrate the psyche of the main character, Apetri employs the codes of the neo-noir: the investigation, the incessant smoking, the nocturnal gazing at city lights. The film makes the viewer examine Florin’s conscience, presenting all the good and bad he has done. But the way to an electrifying ending is long, and the acts are too many to count. If good and bad are fluid, there is nevertheless someone who is always treated as bad and used as a scapegoat: everybody blames the Roma for these crimes. The Roma beats up people on the streets, the Roma steals. The answer to who the real criminal is means nothing, which is an accurate critique of the judiciary system. Romanian cinema often drags viewers into the darkness, plunging them deep into the realm of corruption and injustice, and illustrating the struggle of lonely individuals, as in titles like Graduation (Bacalaureat, 2016) by Cristian Mungiu. Unidentified differs from other contemporary Romanian examples in being dark from beginning to end, but succeeds as a neo-noir making a gloomy statement about society.

Maria Dybcio
Edited by Amber Wilkinson