Without abandoning the hyperrealist precision of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
(2005), Romanian writer-director Cristi Puiu pushes his art toward near-intractable strangeness with this stunning third feature. A detached middle-aged man, played by Puiu himself, goes on a cross-country drive to shake down several people and kill a few others, though his reasons aren't divulged until the very end. Because Puiu never identifies the protagonist's relationship to the other characters, his most mundane interactions, often lingered over with Warholian fascination, become the stuff of tantalizing mystery. Puiu is a master of offscreen space, and here he uses it to suggest a complex world beyond our reach. His manipulation of tone is no less impressive: many scenes induce a voyeuristic trance, only to dispel it with chilling violence or absurd humor. In Romanian with subtitles.