Tuesday, After Christmas Dir. Radu Muntean

[Lorber Films; 2010]

Styles: domestic drama
Others: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, A Woman Under The Influence

In an extended scene in Tuesday, After Christmas, we watch a dentist explain to a mother and daughter about the girl’s underbite problem in long-winded technical detail. The father, Paul (Mimi Branescu), stands to the side for its duration, nearly outside the frame, his body blurred out of focus. This unbroken take would be utterly mundane if the viewer didn’t know that this dentist, Raluca (Maria Popistasu), has been Paul’s lover for six months. But because we do, Paul is the true subject of the scene, his present absence speaking volumes. His daughter might need surgery! What the hell is he doing in the corner?

Radu Muntean’s film is largely about boredom and inaction, but it’s hard not to pay close attention — assuming you can recognize a bit of yourself in it. The protagonist, resembling a chubbier Adam Sandler, has a face you can’t help but love; yet his moral inertia and bumbling participation in this dull, recognizable middle-class lifestyle increasingly implicates the viewer. A study of domestic interiors and the banal rituals taking place within them, Muntean masterfully elicits delicate performances through mostly static long takes, making the environment positively erode with tension. Avoiding psychology, Muntean always presents events unobtrusively and without judgment, allowing a complex spectrum of emotions to keep the viewer in suspense. As most of us know (but would never admit), it’s not easy being passive.

Like a good memory, the magnetic opening scene hangs over the rest of the movie. Muntean lets us watch a couple inspect each other’s starkly nude bodies in bed for at least five straight minutes, playing like children. Yet somehow, these actions feel rote, and it’s not because what we’re watching feels like an arthouse cliché. The duration of the take, the frame showing the extent of their bodies in play, gives the viewer a certain distance, a sense of novelty. It doesn’t take long to figure out that these lovers, Paul and Raluca, aren’t married. When we finally cut to the next scene, Paul and another, older woman — his wife (Mirela Oprisor) — are at a store while she tries on clothes and he shuffles about. It’s a deliberate juxtaposition of domestic space and behavior, one of many scenes in the film that’s fraught with that same curious lack of genuine emotion, signifying a played-out ritual Paul cannot subvert quietly.

We follow him in every scene, his face ranging from bored to distracted when not facing one of his three women. As if mirroring the hermetic nature of its protagonist, almost all of Tuesday, After Christmas takes place indoors, and those outside either take place in cars or with cars visible inside the frame. One responsibility leads into the next; even when we see him at night lounging in a t-shirt and boxers watching TV, his exhausted wife plops beside him and requests a foot massage, to which he submits, distractedly, amusingly. Later, when he makes an impromptu visit to Raluca’s apartment, her mother admits him with the same coldness he displays daily, seating him in front of some very full bookshelves. “We all work for our kids,” she says in their arid exchange, and the air is all but sucked out of the room.

The bare amount of confrontation in the film is always slow, rational, and devastating, as both Paul and the viewer are faced with his responsibilities. Is he truly ignoring them, or is he merely looking for happiness with the least amount of resistance? These questions are left up to the viewer, and it is here where the film gains its immense power. Without giving away the ending, I can only say that the denouement is unsparing, and proves that this is more than just a technically rigorous take on a familiar story or a showcase for some brilliant acting: it’s a series of tableaux upon which we project our own societal fears and desires.

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