Friday, January 6, 2012

Quick Look: TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS


There aren’t many films you’d find from 2011 with the same level of engagement with characters’ emotional lives than Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas. This Romanian film follows a middle-aged man (Mimi Branescu) who loves his wife (Mirela Oprisor) and their 9-year-old daughter (Sasa Paul-Szel). The only problem is that he also loves the child’s pretty young dentist (Maria Popistasu). It's a familiar adultery plot. What happens next is nothing more than an intimate slow-motion destruction of at least one of these relationships. Scenes unfold in unsparing single takes that are masterful showcases of understated acting that allows the characters to act and react in ways that communicate loudly yet subtly with the slightest gesture, a hand on a shoulder, a soft laugh, a look of sublimated anger. Muntean’s film has a mundane, static feeling. The first scene of the married couple finds them Christmas shopping. It’s nothing more than an extended look into a common occurrence, which serves as a contrast to our revealing introduction to the mistress in the scene immediately prior, curled next to the husband in bed. Later, a father-daughter trip to the dentist unfolds for far longer than expected, but it gains a simmering undercurrent of tension as the wife has unexpectedly joined them. Soon, though, it’s off to some holiday gatherings. The every-day details steadily accrued give the central scene, in which unspoken dissatisfaction and betrayal comes cruelly roaring to the surface, an awful bite. The film peters out a bit after that scene, though, never quite regaining its harrowing emotional specificity and intensity. The sometimes pokey pacing has the picture poignantly fading away into routine detail over the course of the final half hour or so. Lives have been ruptured, but their futures still beckon.

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