'Tuesday, After Christmas'

Impressively held takes and a superbly spare use of widescreen are the most notable elements.

Impressively held takes and a superbly spare use of widescreen are the most notable elements of “Tuesday, After Christmas,” Romanian helmer Radu Muntean’s second Cannes entry, after “Boogie.” Again, Muntean and his script collaborators offer exceptionally naturalistic dialogue — though there’s an awful lot of it in this story of a guy shuttling between wife and mistress before finally making a decision. Perhaps more problematical (and in spite of Mimi Branescu’s strong thesping), the male protag is far less interesting than his distaff partners. Nevertheless, excellent craftsmanship will win over fest programmers.

As he did in “Boogie,” Muntean breaks from the popular perception of Romanian cinema, offering solidly middle-class characters whose lives are practically indistinguishable from the majority of Europeans. It’s a welcome universality, allowing the helmer to look for fertile ground in well-worn territory — in this case, with an average Joe wondering whether (and how) to rearrange his life.Paul (Branescu) is first seen lying naked behind Raluca (Maria Popistasu), whose nude recumbent figure fills the frame. They’re engaged in post-coital pillow talk, conveying their comfort with each other along with a demonstrative playfulness. By the end of the conversation, however, we clearly understand Raluca is Paul’s mistress.

Cut to Paul shopping with wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor). Their relationship has the easy familiarity of a couple married for 10 years, still loving but warm from habit and certainly less playful than the scene before. Since Raluca, a pediatric dentist, doesn’t want to meet Adriana, the mistress is understandably tense when Paul takes daughter Mara (Sasa Paul-Szel) for braces and his wife shows up. Popistasu is especially fine here, reconfiguring her relaxed happiness into nervous movements and a tightened face.

Without giving anything away, the pic’s most impressive scene begins just beyond the one-hour mark, when Paul tells Adriana he’s been having an affair for five months. Muntean sustains the scene, without edits, for an extraordinary amount of time, carefully choreographing the couple’s stances with respect to profiles and lighting while allowing his thesps to find an appropriately wounded rhythm. Though the scene has an emotional intensity reminiscent of the best theater, the helmer’s calm focus justly works against a sense of stagecraft.

All this would make for a gripping film if Paul had more of a personality. Instead, he’s just another guy who wants it all and can’t make up his mind. Muntean’s decision to make Paul the protag, rather than focusing on either of the women, puts a burden on the character he can’t sustain, and while Branescu suggests all the character’s silent contemplations, he’s unable to make the figure either very sympathetic or an antihero.

Not so Oprisor and Popistasu — while both have worked in earlier films, never before have they left such a deep impression.Apart from the overflow of dialogue, the film seems to be made with the key instruction: reduce, reduce, reduce. Long takes with an often still camera call as little attention to Tudor Lucaciu’s masterful lensing as possible, stripping down cinematic elements to their most basic and maintaining an observational stance without becoming fetishistic. Edits are minimal, allowing each scene to breathe with the actors.

Tuesday, After Christmas

Romania

Production

A Multi Media Est production, with the participation of the Centrul National al Cinematografiei, HBO Romania. (International sales: Films Boutique, Berlin.) Executive producer, Dragos Vilcu. Directed by Radu Muntean. Screenplay, Alexandru Baciu, Muntean, Razvan Radulescu.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Tudor Lucaciu; editor, Alexandru Radu; production designer, Sorin Dima; costume designer, Giorgiana Bostan; sound (Dolby Digital), Electric Brother; line producer, Dragos Potop; casting, Andrei Serban, Andrei Ionita. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 13, 2010. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Mimi Branescu, Mirela Oprisor, Maria Popistasu, Sasa Paul-Szel, Dragos Bucur, Victor Rebengiuc, Dana Dembinski, Silvia Nastase, Carmen Lopazan, Adrian Vancica, Ioana Blaj.

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