Small Screen Berkeley: ‘Suspension’, ‘Stuff and Dough’ and ‘Niki and Flo’

A movie about bridge construction could be as interesting as watching paint dry. In the case of ‘Suspension,’ it’s not. Plus: Catch up on PFA’s 21st-century Romanian cinema.

Suspension. Photo: Courtesy Pacific Film Archive

You might think a movie about bridge construction would be almost as interesting as watching the proverbial paint dry. In the case of Suspension (currently screening as part of Pacific Film Archive’s Watch From Home series), however, you’d be badly mistaken.

Deep in the Amazonian jungles of southern Colombia, a road connects the municipalities of Pasto and Macoa. Built in 1944, it’s a vertigo-inducing one lane ‘highway’ with steep inclines on either side. Such is the road’s reputation for treachery that locals have dubbed it The Springboard of Death.

After decades of inattention, Colombia’s federal government finally promised to rectify the situation. A new bypass was planned, a fancy promotional video depicting a sleek, modern super-highway was produced, jungle was cleared, and construction begun. And then the money ran out.

The result: an incredible ‘bridge to nowhere’ that is now nothing more than a tourist attraction, with visitors using it as a picnic spot, giant play structure, or vantage point from which to admire the stunning Amazonian landscapes in all directions. We also see a herd of goats enjoying themselves, though what attracts them isn’t as obvious: perhaps they, too, simply enjoy the scenery.


If Suspension is missing anything, it might be the presence of Werner Herzog, whose penchant for laughing in the face of humanity’s insignificance and glum Germanic tones would have provided the perfect narrative accompaniment. Even without him, though, this is a terrific documentary.

Catch up on PFA’s 21st-century Romanian cinema

It’s a fairly quiet week on the new releases front (with film production still almost entirely shut down, is there much left to release?) and consequently the perfect time to catch up on PFA’s selection of 21st-century Romanian cinema. If you’ve been putting off watching them, don’t wait too much longer — the films are all good, and they won’t be available forever.

2001’s Marfa si banii (Stuff and Dough) examines the desires of turn-of-the-century Romanians to make their fortune in the country’s newly deregulated, post-communism economy. Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol) is a young man hoping to open his own snack stand, but in order to do so he needs money – and money is what Marcel (Razvan Vasilescu) offers him in exchange for the delivery of some ‘medical substances’ to a business partner in Bucharest.

Ovidiu jumps at the opportunity, but soon learns that there’s no such thing as easy cash in the brave new capitalist world. Directed by Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), Stuff and Dough assumes the shape of a road movie cum thriller, with Ovidiu and his hapless friends Vali (Dragos Bucur) and Betty (Ioana Flora) caught up in a dangerous game they don’t fully understand.

Two years later, Puiu penned the screenplay for Lucian Pintile’s Niki Ardelean, colonel în rezerva (Niki and Flo), a mordant drama about a retired army officer (Victor Rebengiuc) trying to come to terms with the accidental death of his son and the imminent departure of his daughter (Dorina Chiriac) to the United States. Brother-in-law Flo ((Vasilescu again, this time in a more substantial role than in Marfa si banii) unsuccessfully tries to help Niki adapt to his unhappy new circumstances.


Contemporary Romanian filmmakers seem profoundly uninterested in telling happy or unrealistic stories. Both of these films are akin to being doused with cold water; The Paper Will Be Blue, also still available for streaming, is another example of this refreshing, if rarely uplifting, cinematic tendency.