Tuesday, After Christmas: This Time, It’s Personal

05/25/2011 4:00 AM |

Tuesday, After Christmas

Directed by Radu Muntean

The once Ceausescu-haunted Romanian New Wave is transcending its political origins, applying the movement’s aesthetic principles to stories with themes more universal. Director and cowriter Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas—like Cristi Puiu’s Aurora, which also played at least year’s New York Film Festival, and which will also open soon at a West Village theater—concerns a troubled marriage, depicting its domestic dramas in long, long takes. Five years ago, Romanian directors used the unbroken shot to instill punishing realism into portraits of social ruin; now, they’re doing it to tales of emotional devastation.

In Tuesday, those extended shots create an intense intimacy: they imprison the audience within sessions of pillow talk, goofery, and minor spats, making the viewer feel as much participant as witness, a player in the dull routines of dentist visits and foot massages—as well as in the more sensational moments, in which long-simmering tensions finally boil over. It’s a relationship movie that provokes the audience, as The L’s Mark Asch observed after the NYFF press conference, to “project its own emotional biases onto the characters.”

Mimi Branescu plays Paul, who’s struggling to keep the three ladies in his life happy: his wife (Mirela Oprisor), his tween daughter (Sasa Paul-Szel), and his mistress (Maria Popistasu). He has an easygoing rapport with each, though it’s trickier to maintain when they’re all in a room together; then, the long takes intensify the inherent suspense, making Tuesday a kind of domestic horror movie in which the boogeyman threatening to jump out and tear everyone apart is The Truth. As Paul’s deception collapses, Muntean exacerbates the awkwardness and discomfort because he won’t cut away: edits supply emotional escape, a momentary respite from despair that, to judge from this New Wave’s last half-decade of films, the modern Romanian has never known.

Opens May 25