Those who are used to the clichés and excesses of mainstream cinema may find the films of the so-called ‘Romanian New Wave’ something of a surprise. Films such as The Happiest Girl In the World or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (a winner of the Cannes Palme D’Or in 2007) eschew the melodramatic and opt for an ultra-realist aesthetic that is often shot in real-time. It would be tempting to describe these films as ‘mundane’: but – in the context of these films and Tuesday, After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun) – the use of the word is by no means pejorative.
A winner of the 2010 Golden Owl Award at the Leeds International Film Festival, Radu Muntean’s film begins with a post-coital couple chatting away about life and love. From their conversation we glean that Paul (Mimi Branescu) is having an affair with the younger Raluca (Maria Popistasu) and is increasingly working his way up to finally tell his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor). When they finally part, Paul returns to his other life to continue to hide his secret. Despite the fact that he truly loves his wife and their daughter Mara, Paul finds that he needs to make a decision in the run up to the Christmas holidays.
When thinking about Tuesday, After Christmas and its examination of intimacy, infidelity and isolation, it’s hard not to think of the following quote by Anton Chekov: “People eat their dinner, just eat their dinner, and all the time their happiness is being established or their lives are being broken up.” There are no wildly over-the-top moments of revelation or intense scenes of familial strife. Instead we’re given small increments of tension, picking up on a comment here or an inflection there as we follow the deterioration of Paul and Adriana’s relationship. But this does not lead to the film being dull: indeed, one of the film’s strengths is that it manages to uncover the dramatic in the seemingly banal. Take for example a remarkable scene in which Paul has to go with Adriana and Mara to the dental surgery at which Raluca works. Nothing of import is said but the dramatic irony of the situation and the exquisite direction (the entire scene is filmed in one take) make a scene that is pregnant with tension and anticipation. The film feels remarkably honest and real and this is what makes it so affecting.
The acting is superb with the leads, managing to not only be wonderfully restrained but also making their characters equally sympathetic and relatable. This is not a film in which we pick the right and wrong – it’s one in which we try and gain a greater understanding of the complexities of modern relationships. As mentioned, Muntean’s direction is exquisite as he makes a virtue of long takes and moments of silence. It’s to his credit that the film feels completely organic and never forced or gimmicky.
The relationship drama is ten-a-penny in modern (and, let’s face it, old fashioned) cinema but Tuesday, After Christmas is a compellingly real and moving work. Those who have yet to discover the delights of the Romanian New Wave (and who are prepared to exhibit patience in dealing with its unique aesthetics) should find this a wonderful starting point.
The DVD includes a newly filmed, exclusive interview with director Radu Muntean and a booklet featuring an essay and director interview by curator and film critic Damon Smith.
Tuesday After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun) is released by Second Run DVD and is available now.