Warning: the following post contains spoilers.
Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun), from an Alex Baciu, Muntean and Razvan Radulescu screenplay, opens on a tight, two-shot framing of the graying, newly middle-aged Paul (Mimi Branescu) and the lithe, twenty-something, blond Raluca (Maria Popistasu) as they lie in each others' arms, nude, post-coitus. Muntean's camera trains on her milky, mole-spotted flesh and her light-colored nipples, as well as his furry upper body and swelling stomach as they exchange pillow-talk for an extended duration. As the couple begins to shift uncovered across the bed, Muntean re-frames his pair without cutting away, refusing any editing for what proves the film's opening sequence-shot. In this way, Muntean introduces a maximal degree of visibility and carnal, bodily presence from his narrative's outset, while also registering the long-take technique that has become the principle marker of the Romanian New Wave's group style, emergent in the half-decade since Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005). With a title to correspond, Tuesday, After Christmas's incipient segment suggests the same temporal obsession as is evinced within Lazarescu, Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest - Muntean subsequently refers to the 2006 feature by name - Porumboiu's assured follow-up Police, Adjective (2009), and Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007).
However, though Muntean continues to favor takes of an often exceedingly long duration, it is less time that remains Tuesday, After Christmas's principle formal interest, than it is space, and in particular off-camera space, as the director's narrative of marital infidelity unfolds with one or two members of the triangle excluded in most of the film's minimally cut scenes. As such, the film's opening proves the negative image of the narrative to follow, a moment of abundant presence - where relationships and thus exclusions have not yet been identified - in a film that consequently, overtly signifies absence; indeed, as Muntean's film proceeds, the viewer becomes increasing aware of those excluded from any given set-up, whether it is Raluca, Paul's wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) or even the male lead himself. The director emphasizes said absence not only by centering most scenes around two of the triangle's three parties, with the third at times referenced (or in one definitive moment, rung on the phone), but also in visually excluding figures within scenes in which they make an appearance. Among the notable examples are Raluca's delayed appearance when Paul visits her at her mother's - Paul is left seated beside the hostile older woman, catercorner at a small square table, within a constricted two framing - and even more, a multiple-shot set-piece in which the trio, along with Paul and Adriana's charismatic, sharp-tongued tween daughter, appear at Raluca's dental office for the young girl's orthodontal consultation. Here, Muntean's choreography expertly balances on-screen with off, removing from view and then fixing on the various members as they and the camera move about the interior.
Likewise, the faces of the performers prove pivotal throughout this passage, with the viewer searching for signs of recognition in Oprisor's expressions, and intimations of thought processes in Branescu's and Popistasu's. Ultimately, the film's revelation of marital infidelity does not occur here, but rather in a later, off-handed exchange featuring Paul and Adriana at home alone. With Paul confessing that he has met someone else, Muntean orchestrates the scene in a characteristic set of two-shots, with his couple alternately turned away from the camera and facing the apparatus in three-quarters view. While Adriana accordingly confronts her husband, insisting on the ugliness of his actions, Oprisor's performance does not succumb to histrionics, but instead settles into an under-played, if nonetheless forceful, wounded defiance that perfectly suits her reasonable, characteristically good-humored wife and mother. Though it is undoubtedly the most impacting of the film's performances, therefore, Oprisor's is by no means the only one of note in the uniformly well-played Tuesday, After Christmas. Of course, much of the credit here belongs to Muntean, who has not only guided the aforesaid set of strong performances, but has further sketched, along with his fellow screenwriters, a singularly witty retinue of bourgeois characters. Tuesday, After Christmas thusly offers further evidence of French New Waver Eric Rohmer's creditable influence over Romania's new cinema.
Under the same inspiration, Tuesday, After Christmas likewise proves a deeply moral work, not only in its assent to Adriana's charges against Paul, but in Muntean's narrative construction following the revelation. In the film's concluding segments it is Raluca who is conspicuously absent, with Tuesday, After Christmas's emphasis becoming Paul as he moves into his lover's small flat, and his extended family (Adriana included) for one final holiday celebration. In this concluding scene, as Paul and Raluca discuss their plans for disclosing their separation in the foreground of the frame, we hear their unaware daughter and his parents as they enjoy their Christmas off-camera - the last that they will enjoy as an intact unit. As the film moves to its open ending, its stopping point, Adriana stands beside her father-in-law as they both look off-screen left toward a group of unseen carolers performing for the off-camera little girl and her grandmother (even as Paul clandestinely places his daughter's gifts from Santa under the tree in an adjacent room). At this juncture, the film's off-screen becomes not only the unseen visually field and characters, or even the still absent Raluca, but a future moreover - referred to further by the date of the film's yet-to-come title - that will foreclose against moments of unambiguous happiness for the picture's pre-adolescent female, Paul's parents and Adriana herself. Tuesday, After Christmas ultimately insists not on what Paul will gain in trading up for the attractive younger woman, but on whom his choice will impact - the sole focus beyond Paul as the film progresses toward its end.
In closing, it remains to be said simply that Tuesday, After Christmas represents an unusually high level of filmmaking in its thematically inspired emphasis on off-screen space (to translate the moral implications of its adulterous subject); Muntean's film no doubt will prove - if it hasn't already - to be one of 2010's unqualified festival-circuit highlights, which is to say one of its better films.