Saturday, May 21, 2011

In TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS, Radu Muntean fractures the modern family

The Romanian hits just keep on coming. The latest to garner theatrical release here in the USA is TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (Marti, dupa craciun) from Radu Muntean, the man who gave us Boogie (Summer Holiday) back in 2008. His new one is one of the leanest (only 99 minutes), most realistic-yet-refined, utterly poised probings of the dissolution of a marriage that I've yet seen.  Easily holding your attention from moment to moment, the movie still sneaks up on you. Only at the end -- maybe quite awhile afterward -- will you fully realize what an accomplishment is this graceful, sad, caring-but-unsentimental film.

Mr. Muntean, shown at left, opens his film with a wonderful post-sex scene, alive to that time when the lovemaking is over and the couple can just lie fondly, maybe fondle a bit and make chit-chat and joke at its own, and each other's, expense. The dialog is lovely: utterly real and specific, shot in one exemplary, long take that captures life going on, while simultaneously putting us viewers at wonderful ease. You could not ask for a finer introduction to two of the several characters we meet and eventually root for.

The two lovers -- Maria Popistasu (below, right, and above) and Mimi Branescu (below, left) are so attractive (in a real, rather than a movie-star manner) that we immediately like them. Only in the next scene must we come to terms with the infidelity going on, as we meet the wife (Mirela Oprisor, shown at bottom, left) and young daughter, and we realize that our "hero" Paul, like so many of us men, has embarked upon an affair that can only hurt the people involved, himself included.

Co-writer/director Muntean smartly reserves judgment, presenting his characters as full, rich, needy people who have -- in a couple of cases -- given in to their desires and now must make adjustment because of this. That this adjustment is fraught does not begin to describe what happens in the very few scenes that comprise this wise and unsettling film.

Paul makes an improptu visit to his lover and has an uncomfortable sit-down with her mom (above, left) and an even more uncomfortable visit to the dentist office (below) where his daughter is in the process of getting braces, and where, unbeknownst to one of them, the wife and the mistress will unofficially meet.

All these scenes are both lengthy and exactly measured; as they proceed, they reveal and reveal until we better understand all the characters and watch the difficulties mount. These long takes, rather the usual short scenes we're used to in so many of our would-be dramas, place greater value on behavior-as-character and so resist the easy melodrama that entertains, even as it cheapens characters and relationships.

Toward the end there's a key scene between Paul and his best friend (played by Dragos Bucur -- above, left -- lately of Police, Adjective), a fellow who has also opted for younger women. Little happens, yet there's a strong suggestion that the decision that has been made will not make our hero a happy man.

Interestingly enough, both relationships look like they ought to work, and, in fact, are working (this is why we so readily identify with all parties), yet they can't easily coexist. Infidelity has rarely been eviscerated more tenderly, soberly, honestly than here.

Tuesday, After Christmas, from Lorber Films, is likely to leave mature viewers who've been down this road, shaking their heads in recognition and, perhaps, remorse. Those considering that road will probably want to avoid the movie -- or gird up their loins, grit their teeth, and watch. In either case, the film opens this coming Wednesday, May 25, at Film Forum, for a two-week engagement. Screening times can be found here.

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