Friday, January 21, 2011

MARŢI, DUPĂ CRĂCIUN (TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS): MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Mimi Brănescu, Mirela Oprişo, Maria Popistaşu, Dragoş Bucur
Director: Radu Muntean
Runtime: 96 min.
Language: Romanian
Country: Romania
Verdict: One of my year’s favorites. A gripping, real gripping, superbly acted film.
Genre: Drama

        Often standing against tends to be in itself a political and a philosophical stand. Politist, Adjectiv one of the most remarkable accomplishments in recent times (a movie which I’ve been planning to write, and which I would after this 2010 completion spree), a completely modernist piece of art finds Romanians use prosaic cellphones, work on typewriters and CRT monitors. It feels like a Romania not of the colorful Gheorghe Hagi (my only point of contact to Romania outside of Nicolae Ceauşescu and Count Dracula, both unrelated) but one given to pessimism and dullness. Yes, Cristi’s wife does fancy YouTube, but then life in Romania seems to be modest. One could argue that in its shallow focus shots there’s a sense of claustrophobia, of helplessness, of nowhere to turn to, of suffocation from conformism to the establishment. It is a modernist film, and one that contradicts its own existence. Or probably, with its existence, it provides a source of optimism validating at least the existence of an idealist spark. Corneliu Porumboiu, one of our most interesting filmmakers, made also the witty 12:08 East of Bucharest, a film that didn’t merely allude but actually went ahead and revisited the Romanian revolution of 1989. The regime and the revolution seem to be the Romanian New Wave preoccupation (it is not so much a theory as much as it is a feature).
        What’s most interesting about Mr. Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas is its deceptive references to this preoccupation, that not only brings to it a sort-of postmodernist outlook, but also the manner in which it provides for a Romania that stands so different we’ve come to perceive from the recent RNW award winners brings to us a country that is facing a wholly different set of problems. Mr. Bucur’s character shares his name from Politist, Adjectiv (Cristi), and if this in-joke managed to beat your memory, Mr. Muntean casually has Cristi (again) refer to a DVD of 12:08 East of Bucharest, and the way they toss (and the timing too, it is late inside the film) the DVD feels as if the whole preoccupation of the RNW is trivial in the light of the realities of the Romanian present. Here, the characters do shop in malls, do buy snowboards, use not Cathode Ray Monitors but laptops, use fancy watches (that gift was a watch, right) with ringtones, use shipping to buy products from outside the country. This is the urban world you and me know, and these consumers are more the people we identify with. The iron hand of establishment is a theory to us, but the feeble nature of the moral fabric in the urban world is probably a thing we experience so much so that it is a part and parcel of our day-to-day existence. It is a depressing film about the rather casual nature of matters, and the microcosmic manner in which Mr. Muntean goes about his stand, through a couple and their daughter is just about the year’s perfect synecdochic device. Perfect because it is a wholly identifiable state of affairs we’ve here.
        I hear about friends who are in perfectly committed relationships yet find the intent to venture into other affairs. We all do. Some of us are those friends. I wouldn’t want to sound pompous or idealist or the leader of a socialist outfit but there’s a whole generation there that’s merely fooling around. We meet Paul Hanganu (Mr. Brănescu) and Raluca (Ms. Popistaşu) indulging in playful post-sex talk. It is an establishing sequence, innocent and sweet. They fool around the bed, rolling over and all, until Raluca mentions a name. The mood suddenly changes, and wisdom suggests that she would be the elephant in the room, a.k.a the wife. Mr. Muntean is something of an accomplished realist not merely in the thematic sense, but in the formal sense, one with a sense of realist staging but given to authoritarian (supreme craftsmanship) flourishes guiding our vision through frequent shifts in focus, and deliberate framing. This conversation is a frame of reference to the contrast Mr. Muntean will draw to cinematically evoke within us the nature of the relationships.
        He composes Paul and Raluca together, in tight medium-shots, their bodies barely leaving any vacant space in the frame. It is a little fantasy you see, an excursion into the romantic world. But with Adriana (Ms. Oprişo), Paul is found in relaxed medium shots, bringing into perspective the reality of the situation. It is fascinating how, in the light of this composition technique, the framing of the Paula-Raluca scenes goes from tight to relaxed, to tight back again during the course of the film. It is a reality check for Paul, and I say Paul because Tuesday, after Christmas is his story. He appears to be a smart witty man, often quite forthright in his conversations, and the kind you wouldn’t refer to as the sneaky bastard. On the contrary he is the one I would probably trust to be a guy with a clean heart. I know this friend of mine in Baroda, a friend through a friend, married for quite a few years, and who desperately fell in love on the internet and was passionately in love with this woman visiting her every now and then in Delhi. He was a fine guy, witty and gentle and with a squeaky-clean heart. I do know he considered all the options available, and I guess we all know such guys. Paul is no schemer, and he is only helpless as he cheats. It is quite funny (in a serious way as well) Mr. Muntean keeps his camera still all the time except for the occasions Paul moves around, and when he does Mr. Muntean follows him. That camera catches Paul in focus shots, blurring everything. The authoritarian incriminating finger-wagging camera? The immoral popcorn eating voyeur? The internal conscience? I honestly can’t make up my mind as to which of these roles Mr. Muntean assumes. While Paul and Adriana, or Paul and Raluca have a conversation on the phone, he only remains besides Paul, only hearing their voices. He often blurs Raluca in the far end of the frame, or going all the way and pushing Adriana out of it completely. Except for her leg seeking a foot massage. He obliges. I think it is the finger-wagging option. I don’t know.
        Oh but reader, one might even wonder if the role the camera assumes really matters. I mean, this is not a rape or genocide or a murder victim being framed, or a dictator being hailed, right? Nobody’s dead. This is just an affair we’re talking about. Note a really world changing event, right? Nothing significant like a revolution, no? Or the Holocaust? By the camera, dear reader, I do imply the audience too. In a trivial affair as a cheating by a husband, the camera’s role isn’t crucial, or probably doesn’t matter, right? So the camera, and the audience can afford to casually watch these events unfold. And that, right there, is the theme of Tuesday, After Christmas. What starts off as a casual affair and flights in romantic fantasy land ends being a life breaker, and a despairing event. What starts off as a casually watching, and enjoying might later become sinister. What started off as a casual tryst with power, was probably the reason why 1989 is a significant year in the history of Romania.
        And, so, yeah, I guess Mr. Muntean is probably the moralist, the finger wagging one. And I say that requires courage, and conviction, as against most films that simply observe. He is quite understanding, mind you, not judging Paul or mocking him, or intervening like Haneke and punishing him, but feeling for him, yet scolding him like a parent, as if saying – Paul, son, you cannot escape my sight. You’ve done wrong, and you’ve to deal with it. Maybe, it is the conscience too. Or maybe the society’s finger wagging morality is what eventually becomes a generation’s conscience.
        Ah, but in my indulgence in thematic significance of the film might cut you a false picture of a solemn film, of a boring drama, which is of course wrong. Tuesday, After Christmas is one of the year’s most gloriously shot pictures, and one of the year’s most engrossing. It barely contains 20 sequences, and I wouldn’t categorize this as minimalism or economy, but rather as a sign of cleverness and supreme craftsmanship. We observe more, watch more, and are involved more. There’s one of the most accomplished sequences here, a showdown of all the concerned parties down at the dentist – Raluca being the dentist – and the supremely assured manner in which Mr. Muntean guides our vision and our mind, orchestrating the entire scene so brilliantly and like a true master anticipating our mindset and putting that particular character into focus, reminds me of the genius of the opening sequence of Inglorious Basterds. I know, I’m throwing hyperbole left, right and center, but then this is a film that finds me at my most involved. It is filled with superb performances, none more so that Mr. Brănescu, who so brilliantly and subtly shows his guilt. You see, I watched Uncle Boonmee (next review) the other day and I was confused, for it is not what I seek at the movies, although it is a special one. And then, I watch Tuesday, After Christmas, and I am so clear about myself. My dear reader, this is what I seek at the movies. So I would beg you to discover the brilliance.

3 comments:

Atrisa said...

I agree with you completely on the first scene, was done beautifully. Adriana's breakdown and Raluca's confession (during the watch episode) was acted out perfectly.

I didn't find it "gripping" till I read you describing it that way! Then I realized, till the very moment he came clean to Adriana, I could not predict what his next step was going to be. And for some strange reason, I kept thinking he'll get back with her. You know how it is right, the guy realizes he made a mistake cuz he was comfortable in his happy life yadi yada. And I wasn't sure if it was right for the director to leave it hanging the way he did. But maybe it was. His decision wasn't exactly the kind that should've made him jump with joy, that would've made him heartless.

I don't know if it would be my favorite but interesting :) Also, where do you find these movies??

man in the iron mask said...

These are big movies. This was a firm contender down at Cannes.
Where I found it? Are searching for a long while, my good friend Srikanth managed it for me.

What more could the director have done? The stuff is already there broken. And we move on.

Atrisa said...

I don't see the "director-y" stuff quite like you do! But it has stayed with me, the way True Grit and even The King's Speech couldn't.

No, you're right, the director couldn't have done more.