Tuesday After Christmas
Directed By: Radu Muntean
Written By: Alexandru Baciu, Radu Muntean, and Razvan Radulescu
Starring: Mimi Branescu, Maria Popistasu, and Mierela Oprisor
Director of Photography: Tudor Lucaciu, Editor: Alma Cazacu
Rated: Not Rated, but some nudity
In the latest film from the Romanian New Wave, that ever-prevalent cinema from East Europe that has brought us gem after gem, we get a little morality tale. The story is simple. Paul is middle-aged and living a pretty typical life, except that when we first meet him, he is with a younger woman named Raluca instead of his wife. Director Radu Muntean lets us watch them in their post-coital moments, joking and laughing, with some kisses and physicality, as we see what attracts these people. Instead of giving us their first moment when they locked eyes, or perhaps their intense love-making, we instead see this smaller moment, which plays in real time in a single, maybe 10 minute shot. What Mr. Muntean is able to do is allow us to really understand what drives these two people toward each other, which is what Tuesday After Christmas is all about.
I had the privilege of seeing Mr. Muntean’s last film, Boogie, a few years back. The film never ran theatrically in the United States, and the version I saw was without subtitles, but it demonstrated another story of a man in a mid-life crisis, and effectively did it through the camera and visual playfulness instead of relying on the dialogue, which I couldn’t understand a single word. Tuesday After Christmas is another work of minimalist genius by the Romanian filmmaker, a taut but often subtle work on the little things that keep us going in our relationships, and how fragile those can be.
Consider a scene in the middle of the film as Paul gives his wife, Adriana, a foot massage. Mr. Muntean keeps the camera only on Paul, as we watch him stare off into space while he caresses his wife’s feet without emotion. He can’t even register the physical connection here. This scene is similar to many in Tuesday After Christmas, as Paul bounces between Raluca and Adriana, and the stakes become increasingly tense. To call the film “boring,” as many who are unfamiliar with the Romanian aesthetic might attempt to do, would be a misnomer. Mr. Muntean always creates a tense world, such as one where Paul must sit in a room with Raluca, Adriana, and even his own daughter. Will Raluca break and give the secret? Mr. Muntean plays this all without commentary and a subtle sense of irony.
And as much as Tuesday After Christmas (the title refers to a day we never even reach in the narrative) is a tragedy of a family, it is also a comedy of manners. Paul thinks he can be civil and democratic in making a new path for his life, and doesn’t even consider the consequences. Tuesday After Christmas might not spark in the way films with high emotions and fluid camerawork often do, but like the best of Romanian films, it subtly comments on a culture of repression, allowing us to see what’s really going on underneath.