The rather wonderful opening sequence of Marian Crisan’s Morgen sets the scene really for the whole tone and theme of the film. At a border checkpoint between Romania and Hungary, two border guards insist to Nelu, who has been doing his regular spot of fishing before starting work as security man at a department store, that he cannot bring across the live carp that is sitting in the catch bucket attached to his motorbike with a sidecar. Without the relevant fishing permits and veterinary documentation, Nelu can’t bring the fish back to his home in the little Romanian border town of Salonta. So, without further ado, Nelu dumps the live fish at the roadside to the complete indifference of the guards. They are just doing their job and could do without any unnecessary complications.
That little event just about sums up the attitudes of the respective sides when Nelu, on a subsequent fishing trip, picks up a Turkish man who has been trying to get across the border on his way to Germany, where his family are living. The Turkish man, who can’t speak a word of Romanian while Nelu correspondingly can’t speak a word of Turkish, is most definitely a fish out of water. Two words just about sum up their communication of their situation and what they are going to do about it – “Alemania” (Germany) and “Morgen” (Tomorrow).
What is refreshing about Morgen – and probably essential as far as new Romanian cinema is concerned – is that it is part of a movement that is beginning to move on to the next stage after the rather grim (but no less impressive for it) social realist topics of life in Romania under the Communist regime and in the immediate post-Ceausescu era. There’s nothing in Morgen that relates specifically to the political climate or the social legacy of the past, but rather steps to one side and looks at where the country is left today. Inevitably, some of the old attitudes persist, and in them you can recognise something of the old Romanian character in the mindlessly authoritarian and slightly absurd behaviour of the authorities, as well as in the rather stupefied and confused response of the general public. Both just want a simple life, and are a bit miffed at how this belonging to Europe in a wider sense now just makes their life more difficult.
There’s certainly an air of menace in the situations where the public are afraid of running afoul of laws that they are not even aware they are breaking, but there’s often more of an absurd touch – one identified as much in Cristian Mungiu’s humorous Tales of the Golden Age series of short films, as much as in his oppressive 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – and it’s that aspect that comes to the fore in Nelu’s attempts to shelter the Turkish refugee in his home – to the dismay of his wife – and to find him temporary employment while he hatches a plan to set him on his way across the border. Without giving away too much about the various attempts and close-calls that take place – hilarious though some of them are – eventually, it results in Nelu being forced to take the same kind of response that he took with the fish at the start of the film.
What is also marvellous about Morgen is how, with a minimum of script, very little dialogue and almost certainly little in the way of any kind of filmmaking budget, director Marian Crisan is still able to draw out individual characteristics and universally identifiable sentiments in relation to people and in how people relate to one another through the breaking down of borders – of the geographical and the personal kind – and the unnecessary complications of the world we live in today that make such a simple thing so difficult.