Voyeurism would appear to be a part of human beings’ genetic makeup. When passing an accident or emergency vehicle, people can’t help but glance or even stare — it’s called “rubbernecking.” “People watching” is considered a pastime by some, while leaning in to better hear a neighbour’s latest quarrel is just another form of eavesdropping that is a widely practiced amusement on public transit and in restaurants. But what if you inadvertently overhear something felonious or worse, you’re caught? One Floor Below faces this dilemma, but it doesn’t have the gangster results typically depicted.
Before beginning work, Sandu Patrascu (Teodor Corban) jogs through the park with his dog then returns home for breakfast and a shower. He and his wife (Tatiana Iekel) run a car registration business in Bucharest, which keeps them fairly busy. One day, while passing a neighbouring apartment on the stairs, Patrascu overhears an argument and unwittingly sees a man — another neighbour named Dima (Iulian Postelnicu) — exit the unit. When the occupant is found murdered, Patrascu realizes he could hold the key to solving the case. But when the police do not show up at the Dima’s door, he weasels his way into Patrascu’s life to find out why he’s keeping his secret.
This movie is the antithesis of most films based on similar circumstances. Usually there’s multiple chases, a lot of hiding, possible gunfights and a litter of bodies while the incriminated attempt to plug a potential leak. However this is not the case in director Radu Muntean’s slow burning thriller. Dima doesn’t appear to be a career killer so he’s not chomping at the bit to slay again or make ugly threats he likely cannot keep. Conversely, Patrascu adopts the typical silence of an eyewitness who doesn’t want to get involved. He has no interest in keeping Dima out of jail, but just doesn’t want to stick his nose in other people’s business (as trite as that may sound).
Nonetheless, the expectation of something bad happening is always present and increases with each new encounter between the men. Finding Dima alone in his apartment with his family makes Patrascu understandably anxious. Being confronted with a seemingly friendly Dima in the stairwell is nerve-racking even though their exchange lacks all manner of subtext. Forced to be congenial and then repeatedly thwarted, Patrascu loses his patience with his maddening neighbour. The conclusion is not what one would expect in this situation, but it’s still moderately gratifying even if Patrascu is reluctant to do the right thing.