If you’re looking for a quiet, meditative, occasionally sexy adult drama (that doesn’t involve the creation of life as we know it or dinosaurs), then you should really seek out “Tuesday, After Christmas,” which is the first truly must-see Romanian New Wave movie since “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” It’s a love triangle that, instead of played out in vignettes meant to shock or titillate, is captured in long, unbroken shots that linger uncomfortably as you literally watch a marriage decompose before your very eyes. It’s absolutely riveting stuff, and the kind of small scale movie that too easily slips through the cracks amidst the pirates and kung-fu pandas bombarding cinemas nationwide. We spoke to the film’s director, Radu Muntean, on the Wednesday, Before Memorial Day, about the film’s intentions, its unflinching sense of reality, his place on the Romanian New Wave, and what’s coming next.
The Playlist: So where did the initial idea for “Tuesday, After Christmas” come from?
Muntean: The initial idea was to make a film about a man who is in love with two women, in a different way, but probably equally powerful, because I think that my character is somehow still in love with his wife while he’s starting a new relationship, maybe more passionate, with the other woman. It’s love there, in his family life also. That was the starting point of the film. From that moment on, me and my co-writers [Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu] we started to develop the plot and the treatment and then the script.
The movie is very deliberate in its pacing and how the relationship dynamics unfold. Was it hard to parcel out when information would be revealed throughout the movie?
Well, all of these solutions we discussed for about a year until we finally had a treatment that convinced us that we all were comfortable with. It was long discussions and that’s it. There were a lot of solutions that came and we went through a lot of different solutions to telling the story. At some point we had three stories, like all three main characters were equally important. As we got through the story, each character was the main character for a third of the film. The script was more developed but we decided that it was too much for one movie; that every character deserves one movie to his or her own. So we decided to tell the story with Paul [the cheating husband] as the main character.
Are you still developing the other two stories as stand-alone films?
I haven’t decided what my next film will be about. To tell you the truth, I’m interested in the story of Adrianna, of this kind of woman at forty. But I’m not sure what will be my next film.
What was the thinking behind shooting the film as a series of unbroken takes?
The main objective for that was to somehow make the time of the characters become the time of the viewer. So that the viewer would feel the tension in those mundane scenes and doing this I was hoping to build the tension towards the end of the film, not to disperse the tension inside of a particular scene but to build it towards the end of the movie.
Were there any directors in particular who use long shots that you were looking to pay homage to?
Well, not directly. I always loved Ozu’s films, for example. Or Bresson’s films, but it was not a direct influence. Also, I don’t think that long shots are particularly well used in thrillers; it’s not necessary. My film is not a general film, of course.
Can you talk about the Romanian New Wave and where your film might fit into the movement?
It’s not my job to do this. I am only concerned about my films. Of course, I’m always asked about the so-called Romanian New Wave. I don’t think we’re a united group. Of course we all know each other and we talk to each other and sometimes we switch our opinions about cinema or whatever. But we aren’t an artistic group like there were in France or Britain. My personal opinion is that it started as a reaction to the old kind of Romanian cinema, which was abundant with metaphors and sort of poetical images that I always hated. And for me, I was just striving to do a more honest, direct, and straightforward cinema. I guess it was the case with my other colleagues, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t know if they agree with that!
The one sex scene — and it might be a stretch to call it that — happens in the first scene. What was the thinking in putting the scene so early in the movie?
For me it’s not a sex scene, for me the main objection was to create an intimacy between those two characters. I want the viewer to feel very comfortable with them and to feel like they are very comfortable with each other. So that was very important for me, to build the beginning of the film because all of the other things that Paul does towards the end of the film are influenced because he’s in love with that woman, and I wanted to settle this from the beginning of the film. It’s not just an affair, it’s more than this. They are good together.
There’s no real moral point-of-view to the film. Was that always the intention?
My intention was to understand all of the three characters, if that’s at all possible. The script and the film was to maintain this kind of balance between the characters, because I didn’t want to fall into the clichés of a love triangle – the ugly, dull wife; the pushy mistress; the womanizer who jumps from one bed to another. They are okay, but the problem is that this guy fell in love with another woman and still loves his wife and has to make a painful choice, that’s not even a choice. If you decide to rip apart your life, it’s not an easy choice. In order to live you have to rip away a part of your body.
Is there any inclination to come to Hollywood and work on a larger canvas?
No, I have no inclination to do this anytime soon. I think you can guess this from my films, but I’m not suited with the glamorous Hollywood-type of film. At this moment I want to make films in Romania. I think I can understand these characters and this life. For example, I had one or two months with what I’m going to do next, and I couldn’t figure it out so I decided to take a small break, so now I’m doing a documentary with one of my writers, Alex Baciu, so I’m using this as a sort of “reset.”
What is the documentary about?
It’s about inmates in Romania that are finding love partners during the time they spend in prison, through letters or friends or whatever they meet somebody else and they start a relationship via letters and meet very randomly. It’s also about love. But in the penitentiary.
“Tuesday, After Christmas” is in theaters now.