Thursday 19 January 2012

One Of Those Scenes - "Tuesday, After Christmas"

Radu Muntean’s 2011 film Tuesday, After Christmas shares many similar stylistic attributes with its recent Romanian brethren – it proceeds at a leisurely pace (depending on your point of view, this could be termed “unhurried” or “glacial” – I prefer the former), contains very naturalistic performances, uses very little extraneous music and incorporates very long takes. Other then the tension-filled dinner scene in 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, rarely have I seen all these qualities used as exquisitely as in this film’s central scene: the 12-minute long sequence of a wife gaining her strength and resolve to assert control over her husband – after having just learned from him of his infidelity and his love for a younger woman – and to decide how things will be from now on.

The film’s plot is razor thin: Cristi’s wife Adriana accidentally meets his mistress Raluca (but doesn’t learn about the affair) and it makes him realize that he needs to come clean and make his choice. He still loves his wife, but for him it’s a familiar, comfortable relationship and not quite the passionate affair he’s having with Raluca. We get an intimate glimpse in the film’s long opening scene (single shot of course) of them lounging in a naked, post-coital bliss as she playfully nips at his chin and they engage in the chit-chat of lovers. Later, as contrast, we see Adriana shaving Cristi’s sideburns while he stands naked at the bathroom mirror. It’s not that he doesn’t love his wife – there’s a tenderness with which he rubs her feet on the couch while they have a routine conversation – but he feels the pull towards his younger, less self-sufficient and more vulnerable mistress. So when Adriana decides to meet Cristi at the dentist, she also meets Raluca who is the hygienist that has been working on her daughter’s teeth for the last few visits. After the extremely tense meeting (for two of them at least – Adriana is unaware of anything), Cristi realizes what he has to do.

At the kitchen sink in their home, almost midstream in one of their conversations, Cristi tells Adriana he has fallen in love with another woman. She doesn’t explode, she doesn’t wail – she lets it sit with her for a bit. And that’s where the scene in question begins. As she rummages in the back of the room doing a menial task, it’s like she’s trying to hold things together and prevent her marriage, her home and her entire life from crumbling. But she can’t – the deed is done, the trust is broken. After she vents her anger and Cristi has to restrain her, she steadies herself and lights a cigarette right in the middle of the living room. Previously, when Cristi wants to smoke in the house he’s forced to do it by a cracked open window, but here Adriana defiantly puts her stamp on the house. Gaining confidence, she grills him about the relationship and making it very clear that the marriage is over, that he will move out and that their daughter stays with her. She is also very clear on another point – HE will have to break the news to their little girl on his own. It’s his decision to leave her after all.

Cristi agrees with all her statements as he’s not looking to gain anything from the split and is genuinely sad about the harm he is causing his wife. But Muntean is careful not to make Cristi overly sympathetic. Short of him being smitten by someone who he feels needs him, he comes across as a middle aged guy who worries that “he’s missing out”. So he’s not an evil person, but certainly a jerk. Adriana makes it very clear that this is HIS fault and that HE is to blame for destroying what they had. She finishes the scene dignified and poised but crushed. It’s a hell of a thing to watch this extended, unblinking look at the dissipation of a long relationship. At the end of the movie, a final door closes on a decorated Christmas tree and its bounty of gifts reinforcing to Cristi the consequences of his actions.

Previously published on RowThree.

No comments: