Film Review: Tuesday, After Christmas

Deliberately paced drama of adultery depends on nuance and subtext, the latter holding far more meaning than the subtitles.

Radu Muntean seems to be working out a proposition of cinematic theory with his film Tuesday, After Christmas, the latest offering from the so-called Romanian New Wave that has given us The Death of Mr. Lazarescu; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and 12:08 East of Bucharest. The question under consideration: Can a filmmaker convey emotional turmoil simply by training his camera on characters going about their daily routines? That is to ask, is “reel” less or more than “real”?

Paul (Mimi Branescu) is having an affair with Raluca (Maria Popistasu), a younger woman who happens to be his daughter’s dentist. His wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), a busy attorney and devoted mother, hasn’t a clue about his infidelity. All three are in the process of making plans for Christmas and New Year’s—what to buy whom, where to have dinner—although Raluca seems less than thrilled at the prospect of spending the holidays with her mother, and Paul is beset by guilt and anxiety that comes with leading a double life. Not that he or Raluca appear distraught…distracted, yes, but decidedly in control of themselves and the situation.

Of course this isn’t the case, and Muntean intends for us to contemplate the dichotomy between our inner and outer lives, at the same time allowing that, even in monumental matters of the heart, there may be nothing much to mull over. The heart wants what the heart wants, as another filmmaker once described his own “real” feelings, a revelation laden with irony since directors are experts at embellishing this simple tautology with “reel” melodrama. Most of us live less theatrical lives, our desires well-regulated and unarticulated—quiet desperation alternating with reserved ebullience, as the moment requires.

Tuesday, After Christmas attempts to reverse these realms, evoking stronger response from the audience than the repressed passion on the screen. The film opens with Paul and Raluca in bed, naked lovers enjoying an afternoon tryst. Muntean cuts to Paul and Adriana shopping at a department store, an ordinary couple debating the pros and cons of, among other items, a pair of hiking boots meant to be a surprise gift to Paul. Later, Raluca slips Paul a “Santa” present for his daughter, Sasa (Mara Hanganu), and in another random scene, Adriana grooms Paul, who stands naked as she affectionately trims his hair. Muntean is not drawing explicit parallels between the two couples so much as he is chronicling the little intimacies that comprise their lives, which appear too conventional to imagine they might collapse into emotional maelstrom. At one point, all three find themselves in Raluca’s office discussing Sasa’s braces; the scene is played so subtly that adverted glances carry grave import.

The movie moves back and forth between Paul and Raluca, Paul and Adriana, but little happens: Any action of consequence occurs within Paul’s, Raluca’s or Adriana’s consciousness. Granted, this summary omits the film’s climax, a painful scene in which Adriana’s world is turned upside-down. But that moment stands in contrast to all that comes before and after, which might best be described as an Eric Rohmer film with chitchat in place of ratiocination.

Rohmer was the master of this kind of meditative movie, populated by attractive, bourgeois men and women, often on holiday, agonizing over seemingly inconsequential inner conflicts as they wander through their introspective landscapes. Rohmer preferred diegetic sound to scored music, wide shots to close-ups and long takes of his characters talking, always talking…all of which can be said of Muntean as well. By this reasoning, fans of French New Wave will find Tuesday, After Christmas quietly compelling. But even art-house enthusiasts drawn to the Romanian nouvelle vague may wonder why they are spending 90 minutes with three characters in search of catharsis.