Tuesday, After Christmas *** ½
Directed by: Radu Muntean.
Written by: Alexandru Baciu & Radu Muntean & Razvan Radulescu.
Starring: Mimi Branescu (Paul Hanganu), Mirela Oprisor (Adriana Hanganu), Maria Popistasu (Raluca), Dragos Bucur (Cristi), Victor Rebengiuc (Nucu).
Tuesday, After Christmas feels like eavesdropping on real people’s lives. Directed by Radu Muntean, the visual style of the film is simple – there are very few edits, and the camera moves only when the characters would have otherwise moved out of the frame. The film, which takes place during the week before Christmas (the title date has not happened yet at the end of the film, but we know what will happen on that day), and it watches as Paul (Mimi Branescu), a married, middle aged man with a 9 year old daughter, decides whether he wants to stay with his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) or leave her for his younger mistress Raluca (Maria Popistasu). During the course of the running time, not a false note in struck.
The movie is made up of intimate scenes – mostly between Paul and one of the two women in his life. Basking in post sex bliss and flirtation, a mundane shopping trip with his wife to buy presents, an awkward moment when his wife comes along with him and his daughter to the dentist unexpectedly – and wouldn’t you know, Raluca is the dentist – another awkward moment when Raluca introduces Paul to her mother, who unlike her daughter, is not fooled by him. Raluca is younger, and a little more naïve. She doesn’t quite see why things won’t work out perfectly – she even buys Paul’s daughter a Christmas present. She loves him, and they’ll be a happy family soon enough. She doesn’t even think of his wife.
And yet, Raluca is not the only one in the movie who is naïve – Paul is as well. When he finally sits Adriana down to tell her he’s not only having an affair, but he’s leaving her for the younger woman (not much younger, 26 or 27 he tells her, not realizing to a woman approaching 40, that is a lot a younger). Even in this scene, the centerpiece of the movie, Paul tries hard to be the “good guy”, which he clearly isn’t. He doesn’t understand why Adriana is taking it so hard, wants to part on “good terms” and leave it at that. But for her, the news is devastating. She feels she’s wasted her life with this man who is now just going to pack up and leave her. This scene is long and painful to watch. The actors, so pitch perfect (apparently Branescu and Oprisor are a real life couple so perhaps that explains their easy way with each other) the effect is devastating. We feel for Adriana, of course, she is the wronged party. But even though Paul is in a trap entire of his own devices, we feel for him as well. No he doesn’t have the right to ask Adriana for her sympathy (which he foolishly does), but the decision was a hard one for him – no matter what way he chooses, he’s going to hurt someone he loves, and end up hurting himself.
It’s telling that there is barely a moment between Paul and Raluca after he leaves his wife. She is away on a trip over Christmas, but he moves into her apartment, with the help of a friend, and already, he seems to perhaps be regretting his decision. This is not the apartment of a grown up – it is not a home. And then watch him in the final scenes, on Christmas day, where he and his wife try to keep up appearances to not ruin the holidays. Already, he’s seeing the consequences of his actions – and what his new life is going to be. And I don’t he’s all that happy about it.
Tuesday, After Christmas is a wonderful, quiet little movie about people going about their lives. In an era where divorce is more common than ever, there are lots of scenes like this one played out in people’s lives. And yet, there are few movies made that are this honest, this painful, that examines them. Yes, the people in the movie are Romanian, but the theme is universal.