Tuesday, After Christmas Review
Tuesday, After Christmas starts as it means to go on. Its opening scene is of a couple in bed, one that takes in both their playful nature and their rapport. The conversation is warm, humorous and contains just a touch of seriousness. The overall tone is intensely private and this is precisely why we are drawn into this couple’s relationship. Our intrigue isn’t one of voyeurism but one of recognition. We understand such moments and can share in their feeling and affection. The sense of reality is immense and aided immeasurably by the selflessness of the two performers. The scene also unfolds in a single unbroken take: no deviations, no distractions, no attempts to up the pace - just the everyday rhythms of real life.
This approach is maintained throughout, becoming the means by which co-writer and director Radu Muntean can really probe his characters. The second scene reveals that the man we’ve just witnessed in bed is in fact married to another woman. The third scene goes a stage further and reveals that his lover is also his daughter’s dentist. Yet neither is pronounced in a melodramatic fashion. Rather the viewer gets to understand the situation simply by spending time in the company of these people. We realise that Paul, the husband, loves his wife very much and that they still have an immediately discernible chemistry. They seem entirely happy in each other’s company and entirely relaxed. Witnessing their scenes together without knowledge of his infidelity would no doubt suggest a perfectly loving couple and this is entirely the point. These are ordinary people, not stock characters.
Muntean refuses such clichés and narrative mainstays. He doesn’t make things easier for either the viewer or his characters by placing a strain on the marriage or offering up some basic reason as to why this man has strayed. Even Paul himself seems unsure as to why this situation has arisen. His family life, as we see it, has the appearance of there being nothing wrong and yet here he is with a younger mistress for whom he also cares deeply. Maybe this is just a fling, maybe it is something with stronger roots. Either way, Muntean avoids easy labels. His film will understandably bring things to a head, but only as a means of probing the situation further. We aren’t expected to take sides or to gain some cathartic reaction to the fallout from revelations. Rather we are asked to watch as something far more akin to reality unfolds. All the while those long takes are ever present, effectively placing each scene under a microscope.
It’s important to stress that the technique is always in service to the drama. Muntean isn’t going for flash here, but instead exerting considerable control. This succession of lengthy, uninterrupted scenes refuses his actors a place to hide. Their performances cannot be assisted in the edit or, for that matter, abetted by musical punctuation thanks to a complete lack of score. Instead everything must be forced out into the open. So fascinating are the end results that we barely notice anything else besides the actors. Tuesday, After Christmas is a film about its characters, its situation and the realities inherent in both - it is they which command our attention. The nuts and bolts of its construction and the methodology behind it all simply aren’t given the space to register; even the terrific ’scope cinematography by Tudor Lucacia cannot steal us away.
There is one particular behind-the-scenes detail which cannot help but register if you are aware of it: the actors who portray Paul and his wife, Adriana, are married in real life. This isn’t something I was aware on a first viewing, though it undoubtedly lent a second watch an additional frisson. Tuesday, After Christmas already makes great demands on its performers, but surely this was only enhanced for Mimi Brãnescu and Mirela Oprisor, especially during the film’s latter stages. It makes for yet another reason to be massively impressed by Muntean’s feature, though I’d be wary of ever labelling their presence as stunt casting. The quality is just too good for that to ever be a consideration. Plus Muntean simply doesn’t do gimmickry. Tuesday, After Christmas is a film about honesty and it is that honesty which pervades the entire picture.
The latest release from Second Run (it hit the shelves on May 14th) and we have another winner. The transfer does full justice to Lucacia’s cinematography whilst the special features make for worthwhile additions. The disc itself is dual-layered and encoded for encoded for all regions. The film shares space with a 17-minute interview with director Muntean and he’s interviewed again for the 12-page booklet, both of which are exclusive to this release. Image-wise we find Tuesday, After Christmas in its original 2.35:1 ’scope ratio, anamorphically enhanced and looking spotless. Lucacia’s clean and airy compositions come across superbly, with an excellent level of clarity and strong colours. The subtitles are optional and newly translated for this release. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is in its original stereo form and as crisp and clear as would be expected from such a recent production (the film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where it was selected for the Un Certain Regard category). There is one moment of slightly muffled sound during a clinch between Paul and his young lover, though I have no doubts that any issues are inherent in the original. Tuesday, After Christmas doesn’t have a score as such, though instances of diegetic music sit comfortably with the dialogue.
The two interviews both provide valuable insight in Muntean’s approach to the film, especially when it comes to his treatment of actors. The on-disc piece, conducted by Romanian film critic Mihai Chirilov focuses almost exclusively on Tuesday, After Christmas and here we learn of the extensive rehearsal process, the lack of improvisation and the efforts which went into making the screenplay as realistic and honest as possible. The booklet piece, conducted by Boston Globe and Time Out New York critic Damon Smith, covers some of the same ground but also takes in Muntean’s previous features, his work in advertising and the situation for independent filmmakers in Romania. Both interviews are conducted in English.