Tuesday, After Christmas

The title of Radu Mundean's superb fourth feature, Tuesday, After Christmas, suggests that something has been planned or, more pointedly, that a decision has been made -- but one of an intimate nature rather than of major historical importance. What we know is that it is impending, that whatever has been planned for that day has been set and was agreed upon by at least one party. There is no year mentioned, and the only way we know the season and the month is because of the titular holiday. Indeed, the story being told here -- that of an affair blooming into a something more and a marriage that has come to its end -- is largely devoid of a time period because it is a story that any adult knows all too well, either from their own experience or from the confessions and actions of those close to them.

That should not be taken as a sign that the Romanian director and screenwriter lacks ambition or that anything in his film is at all expected. In fact, Mundean, who co-wrote the film's script with Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu, deals in a sort of dramatic naturalism that eschews and diffuses exposition at nearly every instance. Catharsis is traded in for a slow burn of anger and emotional devastation pointed not at an archetypal bored husband, nor a fetching, flirtatious "other woman", nor an emasculating she-witch of a wife, but rather a person who has fallen madly in love with someone new. Indeed, Mundean restrains any judgment on his characters' morality or "rightness" to focus on the interior lives of his three major characters and allusions to a vast network of complex relationships that are just as complicated as the central love triangle.

This particular sticky situation, however, is spurred when Paul (Mimi Branescu) brings his daughter to get her teeth checked out and meets her orthodontist, Raluca (Maria Popistasu). We never see this scene, nor do we see how they fell into their affair, who made the first move or what excuses Paul made for her smell on his clothes and the hickies on his neck. Mundean begins his film as Raluca and Paul lie in bed, five months into their secretive romance, speaking playfully about his cock size and his struggles with smoking. The director, collaborating with his regular DP, Tudor Lucaciu, favors long takes, a challenge which the actors consistently rise and respond to, but cuts more when dealing with scenes between Paul and his wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor). Nevertheless, Oprisor is perhaps the strongest of this resolutely excellent cast, handling scenes of domestic stagnation with the same seeming ease as the more dramatically eruptive scenes that come towards the end.

Unlike most films that have dealt with adultery, Tuesday, After Christmas doesn't have much of a central, structured plot. When we meet these characters, they are merely on the cusp of making decisions for their future, many of which are seemingly minor. For Paul, it largely orbits around the question of what he will be doing for New Year's and where he will be; he wants to be with Raluca but he is planning on taking a ski trip with his family, and then spending time with friends and family. Raluca's trip to visit her mother stirs her feelings about Paul, which in turn causes Paul to make an impromptu decision to go meet her, leading to Paul's ultimate decision as to what to do in the situation.

Though the film exhibits many facets that are essentially theatrical, it would be foolish to disregard the importance of Mundean's largely immobile camera and his compositions. What Paul ultimately yearns for is an intimacy that has been lost in his very public life with his wife; you'll notice that doorways are accentuated throughout, but especially so when Paul and his family are together, with someone often looking in or performing general business in the background. Almost every scene featuring Raluca and Paul alone is closed off, away from prying eyes and the tediousness and openness of his relationship with his wife.

The seeming plainness of the film itself hides a sense of deep humane understanding: When Raluca and Paul talk about how much they love one another, there is no sense of the wool being pulled over anyone's eyes, or that a plot is being hatched. They are two people in love who make a decision together, and Mundean refuses to portray either of them as cold or uncaring of the situation they find themselves in. It is understandable that this might be misconstrued as laziness or a questionable experiment in stylized realism but it smacks of a sincerity that tales of adultery tend to chuck in favor of easy genre mechanics, absurd psychology, or flashes of eroticism that never quite stick. The beauty of Tuesday, After Christmas is in the details and what they insinuate -- whether it's a bitter conversation between Paul and his wife's sister, or a watch Paul gives to Raluca, one that makes her face glow from tender memories that to us are only vapor trails. 

AKA Marti, dupa craciun  

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