Much of what’s praised as innovation in new movies only gets a pass because film culture keeps a short memory. Already, last week’s release of Keira Knightley-Sam Worthington’s Last Night is obstructed by Tuesday, After Christmas, the latest “masterpiece” from the New Romanian Cinema movement. Director-writer Radu Muntean takes the expected approach to infidelity through literal-minded real-time, long-take scenes of sexual betrayal, first between Paul (Mimi Branescu) and his mistress Raluca (Maria Popistasu), then in scenes involving his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor). With the exception of Raluca’s shaved pubes and Paul’s shrinkage, the film’s honesty doesn’t extend beyond frontal nudity—the rest is cheating-husband cliché.
The recognizable temptation and regret that made Last Night a breakthrough in mutual sexual consciousness should not be overlooked in the trendy enthusiasm for Romanian cinema’s banality. Paul and his women pass time discussing Christmas presents and Santa Claus—hip evasions of faith and social tradition—while avoiding the intimate motivations that were the focus of Last Night’s truly fascinating and revealing interlaced time structure. The only irruption of the film’s placidity is the wife’s completely familiar slow-burn hissy-fit.
Looking further back, Irvin Kershner’s 1970 Loving set the precedent for what Munteau attempts in its story of middleclass baby-boomer restlessness. But George Segal cheated on Eva Marie Saint out of frustration, not the boredom or immaturity that define Paul as part of a disingenuous generation and a non-reflexive film movement. Kershner displayed the same moral examination in The Luck of Ginger Coffey and Up the Sandbox, two other films forgotten by gatekeepers. Muntean accidentally evokes both films in his fine visual sense, a casual view of lived-in locations that recalls Kershner’s elegant natural-light compositions via Gordon Willis.
But Kershner’s films were also artistic advances, notably in Loving’s nanny-cam infidelity scene, which broke through narrative convention, trapping its characters in modernity and forcing audiences to analyze their times—not this derelict Romanian complacency with face-value characterizations and real-time duration. (Muntean pays smug homage to the interminable, banal 12:08 East of Bucharest.) It is faint praise to note that Tuesday, After Christmas is the most approachable of recent Romanian releases. Still, it’s neither revealing nor compelling.
>>Tuesday, After Christmas
Directed by Radu Muntean
At Film Forum May 25–June 7
Runtime: 99 min.