Let me set up a social nightmare. It’s Christmas eve, tomorrow’s turkey is defrosting on the kitchen counter, the sherry is flowing and you’re sharing pleasantries with your friends and loved ones. It’s all going so well, until you overhear a disgruntled wife at the end of the table, mutedly arguing with her husband. You ignore it, it’s just banter. That is, until there profanities get louder and louder until it’s dominating the room. There’s tears, there’s scandalous revelations, there’s alcohol hurled at the husband’s face; it’s essentially extremely awkward. We’ve all been in such situations before, but I bet you haven’t had the displeasure of playing idle witness to such relationship turmoil for ninety minutes, have you? Ladies and gentlemen – Tuesday, After Christmas–or–Marti, dupa craciun, for all you millions of Romanian readers out there.
Although it may not play out in quite the same way as the above (there’s no sherry, for a start), this raw romance drama from Romania’s Radu Muntean reaches similar levels of discomfort telling the simple, commonplace tale of extra-marital activities and emotional fatigue. It starts off with Paul and Raluca (played by Mimi Branescu and Maria Popistasu) lying naked in bed, right after the act. Passionately kissing and caressing each other, the pair talk in that universal – and totally nonsenical0 – ‘honeymoon’ language. A pleasant image of true love, we quickly realise that this picture isn’t so sweet as Paul has to get back to his wife Cristi (Dragos Bucur) and their seven year old daughter at home. It’s a ballsy opening scene (yes – pun), and it actually turns out to be the best Muntean’s got in his inventory.
From hereon, Tuesday, After Christmas keeps you on a tight leash as we wait for things to bubble and explode. We know they will, but we can’t quite figure out how or when. Whether Cristi finds Raluca’s thong in the wash, or Paul cowardly flees the country is irrelevant. Rather than inflate the premise, Muntean focuses his attention on the naturalistic dialogue and mumbling exchanges. Working with his regular collaborator’s Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu, Muntean’s script has the similarly improvistional form. There’s no time for allegory, for humour, for anything other than what the all-too-real situations like endless christmas shopping and visits to the dentist require. The same goes for the various, one camera long takes (which, at a push, reminded me of Godard’s Contempt), and the distinct lack of nondiegetic sound or music, right up to the closing credits, makes for a barren picture. It’s the anti-artistic/anti-intent, barebones filmmaking, which I often find boring. Fortunately, Tuesday, After Christmas bucks the trend.
A small panoply of relationship grief, with three powerful performances, acerbic, virging on malignant dialogue, and the palpable air of discomfort, it’s an unrelentingly uncomfortable, yet mesmerising film. One that will take a while to shake from memory and, when it is gone, I’ll certainly not be inviting it over for seconds.