Mimi Brãnescu and Maria Popistaşu in Tuesday, After Christmas (2010)
"You are my biggest disappointment ever."
- Adriana (Mirela Oprisor)
In his fourth feature film, following 2008's acclaimed seaside drama Boogie, Romanian writer-director Radu Muntean navigates the complex emotional mapping of three ordinary lives, all connected by love. Paul Hanganu (Mimi Brãnescu) loves Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), who loves Paul. But Paul also loves Raluca (Maria Popistaşu), and therein lies the dramatic rub of Tuesday, After Christmas. Adriana is Paul's wife, and together they have an eight-year-old daughter, Mara (Saşa Paul-Szel), currently going through "a pink phase." Raluca, the girl's dentist, has been cheating with Paul for five months, and has grown fond of not only her lover, but also his lifestyle. In the first scene, which finds them lolling around, nakedly, in bed, she inquires about what the couple have bought Mara for Christmas. They talk casually of the upcoming festivities, and it soon becomes clear that Muntean isn't interested in telling your usual tale of infidelity. There are no villains here, nor are there any victims. Raluca is not begging Paul to leave his wife, and he shows no signs of wanting to. Adriana is a kind-hearted and generous woman, not the irritable shrew who would have allowed Paul a dramatic cushion to fall back on; there's no attempt here to accommodate his deceit, or create clear emotional lines.
Muntean, along with co-writers Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu, smartly avoid the trappings of so many dramas in this ilk, refusing to identity with Paul as the singular protagonist, denying him an excuse or even a reason to want to betray his marriage. There is not a single scene where the camera observes him alone, with the film's structure alternating, austerely but not intrusively, between scenes with Raluca and Adriana. The opening scene is directly succeeded by an extended take of Paul and Adriana shopping; the insipid tones of department store music adopting an unusual sharpness when juxtaposed with the intimate silence of the bedroom. The shopping scene is perhaps the most important in the whole film, as it establishes Paul and Adriana as a couple, instead of singular personalities. We watch them eat together, lounge around on the sofa, visit the dentist (an excruciating and impeccably measured scene) and talk with friends. The mundanity of their life is something shared, something sacred, and something they have built together. So when Paul fractures that bond, his confession unfurling in an astonishing 10-minute unbroken shot, the impact is doubly shattering. Adriana is not just collateral, shackles around the feet of our newly liberated 'hero', but a lovable and defined human being; one half of a whole which has just been ripped apart. And for what? Lust? Or love?
Muntean never challenges Raluca's devotion to Paul, but we are left to wonder about how much of their relationship was built on impulse; desires unchecked. The catalyst for their affair remains unknown, even by the film's end. It is never disclosed how often they meet, or if these meetings ever entail more than sex. When Paul leaves his wife - from his own volition, it's worth noting - it becomes apparent just how little he knows about his new lover, her tastes and turn-ons, outside of the bedroom. There's never any sense, either, of Muntean as the prescient dictator - his characters don't follow the arc of any conventional plotting, nor do their actions seem manipulated by the need for closure. The director here acts as observer, as scenes unfold in continuous long takes, shot in 2.35 : 1 to encompass every character in the frame, and capture every physical gesture, however minimal. Their fates remain undecided by the climactic scene, and Muntean leaves it to his audience to put all the pieces together.
Several days after my first viewing, the jigsaw formed by those pieces remains messy and incomplete, but that's somewhat the point - relationships are messy by nature, they make us irrational and vulnerable, and leave scars. The emotional bruising of Tuesday, After Christmas materializes just minutes after its end, softly at first, but as time passes and the consequences of Paul's actions sink in, the pain deepens. These characters are so warm, so relatable and human, that the idea of them being hurt so profoundly is almost unbearable. We come to relate to them like we would close friends. This is largely down to the central trio of stunning performances, which favour naturalism and often feel spontaneous. Brãnescu and Oprisor are a real-life couple, and so the specifics of their relationship are more rounded, and the dramatic weight of the confession scene - an absolute masterclass from Oprisor, who channels frustration, rage, jealously and love into one complex, riveting sequence - increases exponentially. Popistaşu (best known to UK audiences for her turn in Tudor Giurgiu's Love Sick, 2006) brings boundless energy to the adorable Raluca, making it easy for us to understand how Paul could so easily fall for her. All that remains is for me to express my sadness that this title is bypassing cinemas for a straight-to-DVD release. Second Run have done an exemplary job in their transfer, but the film really deserves as large a platform as possible, as it's the best film I've seen in 2012.
Spotless 16:9 transfer, approved by Muntean himself; the clarity of image is almost HD quality, helped in part by the distinct lines of colour and soft lighting employed by DP Tudor Lucaciu. The sound mix is also crisp and clear, although the film contains little to no music, with emphasis on dialogue and diegetic sound throughout.
Second Run are well-known for their exemplary booklets, but Damon Smith's piece for this release - three contextual paragraphs and a four-page interview - is unusually slim, and somewhat disappointing. Muntean proves an interesting subject, however, as he discusses the attitudes of the New Wave filmmakers toward the industry of old, and also considers his own filmmaking process and its results. The disc contains a 17-minute interview, dated March 2012, between Muntean and film critic Mihai Chirilov, which elaborates on many of the topics covered in the booklet. For the film alone it's one of the year's must-have releases.
Tuesday, After Christmas is released via Second Run on May 14th...