A Love Triangle, With Sharp Edges: Paul (Mimi Branescu, left) is an affable guy who loves his wife — and their daughter's orthodontist (Maria Popistasu, middle), too. Lover and wife (Mirela Oprisor, right) meet during a dentist appointment that thrums with tension and shame.
Tuesday, After Christmas
- Director: Radu Muntean
- Genre: Drama
- Running Time: 99 minutes
In Romanian with English subtitles.
With: Mimi Branescu, Maria Popistasu, Mirela Oprisor
The latest bloom from the flourishing garden that is Romanian cinema, Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas chronicles the emotional fallout from a classic love triangle, but it unfolds with the agonizing tension of a suspense film. Shot in long takes that never call attention to their masterful orchestration, the key scenes slowly percolate to life, carefully drawing out the turbulent emotions at their core. Though human lives don't hang in the balance as they might in a Hitchcock film, a seemingly stable marriage and family does, and Muntean makes the stakes feel just as heightened. In his hands, a scene as mundane as a consultation with the orthodontist becomes suffused with sick, creeping dread.
The dental specialist in question is Raluca (Maria Popistasu), a bright and lovely young woman first seen engaging her lover, Paul (Mimi Branescu), in a blissful round of pillow talk. They talk about how his toes indicate his virility and artistic temperament. They talk about what to get her mother for Christmas. She advises him to quit smoking, not least because it's bad for his teeth and thus an insult to her profession.
What they don't talk about — and what doesn't become clear to the audience until the next scene — is that Paul is a married man. Or that he really loves his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) and their 8-year-old daughter, who can expect a new snowboard under the tree this year. Raluca knows full well that she's a homewrecker, but it's important for her to maintain the illusion that her happy relationship with Paul doesn't come at another woman's expense. Otherwise the guilt would be unbearable.
All of which sets the stage for that extraordinary scene at Raluca's office, where Paul has taken his daughter to get her braces, at a time when his wife was supposed to be stuck in meetings. When a change in schedule allows her to make the appointment, too, Paul and the two women share the same room for the first time, with Adriana oblivious to the significance of it. Yet the suspense doesn't come from whether or not Adriana will find out about the affair — Raluca's professional duties make it easy enough to keep the conversation focused on dental options — but from the bone-deep shame that surfaces on Paul's face. In the bedroom, the lovers are cocooned by the pleasure they take in each other's company; out in the open, they can't block out the consequences of their betrayal.
Paul and Raluca's affair tears apart his seemingly happy marriage with Adriana, but director Radu Muntean designates no villains — opting instead to paint his characters in an unflinchingly objective light.
Paul and Raluca's affair tears apart his seemingly happy marriage with Adriana, but director Radu Muntean designates no villains — opting instead to paint his characters in an unflinchingly objective light. Lorber Films
A Hollywood film would make a villain out of one of them: Perhaps the wife for being cold and distant or the husband for being a callous pig or the lover for being an evil temptress with no compunction about breaking up a marriage. But Tuesday, After Christmas doesn't make it that easy to take sides, and it isn't interested in aligning the audience's sympathies with one set of characters or another. It simply lays out, in devastating terms, the fallout from a perfectly commonplace dalliance.
Though it lacks the political component of other movies from what's been dubbed the Romanian New Wave — pictures like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days — Muntean's film shares with them a patient, deliberate style that sustains a low hum of dramatic tension. Tuesday, After Christmas taps into the same volcanic emotions as a marital drama like Blue Valentine, but through different means — less from Cassavetes-like shouting matches than from the aching resolve of adults coming to terms with a changing landscape. It's an ordinary affair, dramatized without narrative frills, yet it bows with the weight of domestic tragedy. (Recommended)