May 24, 2011
MOVIE REVIEW | 'TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS'
Case of Romanian Realism: Regular Guy, With Wife and Girlfriend
By A. O. SCOTT
Around 40, with a soft gut, rounded shoulders and graying hair, Paul (Mimi Branescu), the middle-class Romanian who appears in virtually every frame of Radu Muntean’s “Tuesday, After Christmas,” is probably 10 years past the peak of his handsomeness. But he still has some attractive qualities, among them a low-key sense of humor, a decent work ethic and an obliging, if sometimes brusque, demeanor.
He is, all in all, a fairly ordinary guy caught up in a drama that is equally banal and entirely of his own making. He lives in a nice apartment in Bucharest with his wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), and their 9-year-old daughter, Mara. He is also having an affair with Raluca (Maria Popistasu), the young dentist treating Mara’s overbite.
Mr. Muntean, who wrote the screenplay with Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu, treats Raluca’s profession both as a mundane fact and as a sly, deadpan joke, a way of deflating, almost from the outset, whatever romantic and melodramatic associations cling to the subject of adultery. This is not to say that the film makes light of the potential and actual consequences of what Paul is doing — there is no shortage of strong, painful and complicated emotion on the screen and also some low-key, gimlet-eyed comedy — but rather that it refuses any hint of overstatement, embellishment or wishful thinking. The strength of “Tuesday, After Christmas,” Mr. Muntean’s fourth feature, lies in its rigorous, artful and humane fidelity to quotidian circumstance.
“Realism” and “minimalism” — the terms often used to describe the tough, stripped-down movies that have been coming out of Romania in the past decade — seem both obvious and inadequate when applied to Mr. Muntean’s work. Like his most recent films, “The Paper Will Be Blue” (2006) and “Boogie” (2008), “Tuesday, After Christmas” diagrams, with remorseless, sympathetic clarity, the behavior of a man who is at once willful and passive. Its formal economy is startling and subtle. The whole thing consists of a few dozen shots, with the camera moving only when it needs to. But nothing essential is missing, and the story is hardly simple. This is the realism of an M.R.I. scan or the X-rays of Mara’s mouth that Raluca shows to Paul and Adriana. The camera discloses truths that are ordinarily hidden from view and that, once revealed, are open to endless, agonizing interpretation.
“Tuesday, After Christmas” can feel at times like an uncomfortable intrusion into the intimacy of other people. Its opening scene records a moment of naked, postcoital languor, but our presence in the bedroom is in some ways less voyeuristic than what follows.
Watching a decade’s worth of trust and tenderness collapse, in real time, over coffee is more transgressive — you might say more pornographic — than witnessing a few minutes of erotic bliss. Mr. Branescu and Ms. Oprisor, actors of uncanny instinct and intuitive precision, are also a real-life couple, which may help to explain the easy, almost unconscious rapport that exists between Paul and Adriana, even as their relationship implodes.
But even scenes that might seem incidental are played out with meticulous attention to submerged emotional currents and telling ironies. Not much is left out, though nothing is exactly spelled out either, so as you follow Paul through his routines, you take the full measure of the man, his circumstances and the people around him. His affectionate exasperation with his parents, his dogged amiability during a chilly encounter with Raluca’s mother and his foolish, infuriating insistence on acting like a nice guy at his lowest moments — all of this adds up to a portrait that is unsparing and unflattering without ever quite being unkind.
And somehow “Tuesday, After Christmas” is brutally honest but not gratuitously cruel. It does not manipulate the audience into judgment, pity or prurient curiosity. It sticks to the facts and circumscribes its action within the space of a week or so, telling the middle portion of a much longer story.
Paul has been involved with Raluca for a few months when the movie begins, and when it reaches its quiet, devastating final shot, the day specified in the title still lies in the future. But we have already seen everything and have been so absorbed in the contemplation of human imperfection that it may take a second viewing to appreciate the flawlessness of this film.
TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Radu Muntean; written by Alexandru Baciu, Razvan Radulescu and Mr. Muntean; director of photography, Tudor Lucaciu; edited by Alexandru Radu; set design by Sorin Dima; produced by Dragos Vilcu; released by Lorber Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Mimi Branescu (Paul Hanganu), Mirela Oprisor (Adriana Hanganu), Maria Popistasu (Raluca), Sasa Paul-Szel (Mara Hanganu), Dragos Bucur (Cristi), Victor Rebengiuc (Nucu), Dana Dembinski (Raluca’s mother), Silvia Nastase (Ica), Carmen Lopazan (Cosmina), Adrian Vancica (Mircea Dumbraveanu) and Ioana Blaj (Narcisa).