Cannes 2010: Those Romanians are at it again


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Romanians can’t make a bad film. It’s, like, illegal in their country. Or at least not in their DNA.

Over the last four years, filmmakers from the small Eastern European nation have swept into the south of France every May and put far bigger, more storied film cultures to shame, the U.S. and the fiercely proud host country among them. It started primarily with the critics’ favorite “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” in 2006, continued the following year with the powerful abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (which won the Palme d’Or) and hasn’t abated since, with last year’s “Police, Adjective” and “Tales from the Golden Age” worthy entries in the so-called Romanian New Wave.


This year the streak continues -- and perhaps gets even stronger -- with “Tuesday, After Christmas,” an infidelity drama from a director named Radu Muntean who’s been here several times before. We caught his new movie, in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, at its Thursday press screening and were close to blown away. Muntean’s movie is a remarkable, pitch-perfect work, as convincing and affecting a portrayal of the subtleties of modern life and marriage as you’ll find on the screen.

The film is peopled by little more than a married, 40-ish man named Cristi (Mimi Branescu) who’s having an affair, his serious but not unsympathetic wife, their preteen daughter and the daughter’s orthodontist, with whom Cristi is engaging in said extra-martial activity. Things get hairy from the start for Cristi, as he’s consumed by guilt (not to mention logistical issues) in his attempts to keep the affair a secret, then get emotionally complicated as he juggles his feelings and relationships with the two women (as well as his daughter).

It all sounds very ordinary, or even pedestrian, by art-house film standards. But if cinematic genius is taking a story we think we’ve seen before and telling it an entirely fresh way, Muntean is ready for Mensa. There are no melodramatic hysterics of the kind you’d see in the U.S. “Terms of Endearment”-esque version of the tale; even the movie’s climactic showdown feels wonderfully restrained. It’s simply absorbing, authentic storytelling, with filmmaking that’s distinctly stylized but never distracting. And the performances are insanely good.

No U.S. distributor has yet bought this movie (or the other, equally promising Romanian film here, “Aurora,” from the same director as “Mr. Lazarescu”). While “Tuesday, After Christmas’ ” subject manner and style are eminently accessible to an American audience (it helps that, unlike a lot of the new Romanian cinema, this one is set not in the 1980s Communist period but the modern one, in a decidedly middle-class milieu; Romanian film characters have moved up in the world), we fear that the rocky commercial market for these kinds of dramas will scare off buyers. It won’t matter. The Romanians will keep making great movies, whether or not we turn out to see them.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France

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