Sunday&Tuesday Editor’s Picks, Monday Also Rec: Radu Muntean

by on December 2, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

A complete retrospective of director Radu Muntean will play Thu Dec 01 to Tue Dec 06 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as a sidebar to the sixth-annual Romanian Film Festival in New York.
 

In-person appearances by director Radu Muntean at all screenings!

Thu Dec 01 at 3:30*Boogie (2008) [Program & Tix]
Sun Dec 04 at 5:30**The Rage (2003) [Program & Tix]
Mon Dec 05 at 6:00Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) [Program & Tix]

… and at 8:30Visiting Room (2011) [Program & Tix]

Tue Dec 06 at 6:00** The Paper Will Be Blue (2006) [Program & Tix]

*Intro by actress Anamaria Marinca **Intro by actor Andi Vasluianu

 

The Romanian Cultural Institute’s sixth-annual fest rounds up premieres and revivals from the millenium’s reigning national cinema insurgency.

 

 

THE RAGE (2003)

 

“In order to enter the world of illegal car races, two friends – Luca and Felie – borrow money from a local mobster,” Cineuropa synopsizes. “Their problems begin when Luca dares to win a race he was supposed to lose, causing Gabonu a loss of 7,000 USD (including the debt). They have 24 hours to pay back the money.”
 
Radu Muntean’s first film, The Rage (2001), was a thriller that garnered little attention in the states, but Derek Elley caught a screening for Variety:

A sweet-and-sour look at a rebellious seg of modern Romanian youth, “The Rage” lives up to its title for much of the going with its grungy portrait of restless Central Euros. As the main characters go on the run halfway through, film starts to click as a more affecting drama, though there’s still nothing highly original here…
 
Largely thanks to Dorina Chiriac’s perf as the cute but tough little Mona, the film develops into a quirky love story, with darker undertones, that’s quite affecting. Scenes between the two leads are less hard-edged than the rest of the film, and shot in a softer and more visually composed way, contrasting with the tough first act, in which modern-day Bucharest seems to be entirely populated by sectarian gangs or rioting ruffians.

 

 

THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE (2006)

 

Muntean’s second feature, The Paper Will Be Blue, garnered considerably more critical ink.

 

It arrived stateside in the company of other well-regarded Romanian films — 12:08 East of Bucharest, California Dreaming, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu — which shared broadly similar aesthetic tendencies (deadpan humor, long-take minimalism) and thematic concerns (the shadow of Romanian dicator Ceauşescu, bureaucracy, quotidian hardship). The Paper Will Be Blue “reconstitutes the bleak atmosphere of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989, zooming in on a moment when the long-awaited fall of the communist regime was still somewhat in question.”

 

Richard Pena, for its original run at Film Society of Lincoln Center:

With no one sure who if anyone is running the country or whether a counter-coup has restored the dictator to power, an armored military unit hunkers down in a quiet Bucharest suburb, awaiting orders but mainly trying to stay out of trouble. A young militiaman, Costi (Paul Ipate), eager to join the rebel forces, escapes from the unit and heads to the National Television station, where it seems a battle for control is underway; his captain, career military man Lt. Neagu (Adi Carauleanu), is worried that Costi’s desertion might lead to his unit being tagged pro-Ceauşescu (or possibly anti-). He assembles a patrol to go on a manhunt for the deserter, while nervous citizens watch history unfolding on the television sets. A gripping, taut rendition of the birth pangs of contemporary Romania, The Paper Will Be Blue is history from the ground up—an attempt to re-create historical events as they were lived by the average Romanian.

 

Leslie Felperin in Variety:

Helmer Muntean and his co-screenwriters Razvan Radulescu and Alexandru Baciu adroitly play off the threat of real violence (as promised in opening scene) against the comic absurdity of the what’s going on, for instance when Costi finally persuades his captors to let him go by getting his mother on the phone to vouch for his character.

 

Characters, who are hard to tell apart at first given grainy, umbral quality of high-def night shoot, gradually blossom into likeable, fully formed personalities.

 

Using largely handheld camera rigs and overlapping sound, pic achieves high degree of naturalism, creating docudrama feel without ever edging into preachiness. Accent is on showing confusion of the times from regular folks point of view, not making a big statement about history in the larger sense.

 

 

Moritz Pfeifer for the East European Film Bulletin:

The tragic outcome for the main characters of this film is due to a political quid pro quo. The political order is about to change and to veer its constitutive power. This means that identities occupying this or that position might suddenly inhabit a contrary one, a new one, or entirely loose the recognizability of their place. Because revolutions are sudden, this might happen without the people affected by this change knowing so. Thus a “terrorist” to the state might turn the state into a terrorist when political standpoints shift. Conversely, a guard to the state changes into a revolutionary (hero?) when he switches sides, but might represent a threat to another revolutionary if he forgot to change his uniform, in turn letting the revolutionary seem like a terrorist. Other guards become superfluous when they are unable to define what they are guarding.

 

This who-is-who-for-whom-turmoil is at the core of Muntean’s film, and Costi, the deserter, will hold almost every imaginable position as the night proceeds. He starts being a guard for the State militia. This makes him a “comrade”, which means that he is addressed as part of a communist system which he is supposed to secure as a job. Aware of the change that is going on, he tries to get rid of holding that place. After leaving his unity, he joins a group of revolutionaries, who recognize that he must be on their side, calling him “brother”, which permits him to feel as one of them. Next he ends up in the suburbs helping protestors to hold their position against “terrorists”, terrorists being resisting military forces. He thus turns into a “soldier” again, but this time fighting on the other side. But then he turns into a “terrorist” himself, when the revolutionaries notice the uniform under his polyester jacket. So far he held the positions of a guard, a revolutionary, a terrorist and is imprisoned at last to clarify what exactly he is. Ironically the protesters call Costi’s mother to find an answer, and it is this call that allows him to go home. He thus turns back into a son, the only sure attribute, perhaps, this night could provide for him. This shift of positions, from the embodiment of state authority over its catachresis and to the return to its most elementary recognizable appellation, marks the linguistic chaos of the revolution.

 

Lulia Blaga in KinoKultura:

There is an atmosphere — or, more precisely, a tension — in the film that is constructed by the young filmmaker with limited means. Just as there is no leading character, there is no firm dramatic structure to sustain the night time adventures of the protagonists. The only certain thing is the death of the two young heroes, killed by accident, amidst this absurdist mise-en-scène, and the aftermath of the events, which the film tells later. After all, an absurd death is the result of complex factors. The capacity of the script to release the spirit of important incidents and of obviously banal elements is matched by the power of the story to remain true and extremely loyal to reality. The filmmaker avoids the temptation to melo-dramatize the events, which one must admit, have already saturated the patience of the Romanian public. It goes without saying that the general disappointment of a people who feel betrayed would continue to grow as long as the revolution, so glorified officially, remains a black hole in the recent history of the country. Radu Muntean claims in all of his interviews that he had no intentions to resolve the mysteries of the Revolution. His film exposes the unique atmosphere of that time. His take on the events imposes on Romanian viewers a sad commemoration (which probably is the way out from the saturation mentioned above). It is sad to look at yourself in this mirror. This cocktail made of victory, hope, madness, lack of conscience, error, indifference, idiocy, loss of a sense of reality would be difficult to digest by those who, since then, have not even tried to deal with their past. But it pays off.

 

 

Boogie (2008)

 

Muntean’s low-key relationship drama was well-received despite getting less attention.

 

Peter Bradshaw for the Guardian:

Muntean demonstrates great simplicity and clarity, capturing potent emotional events which are allowed to unfold in long, continuous takes with the camera kept prudently back at a distance.

 

Dragos Bucur plays Bogdan or “Boogie”, a hardworking guy who has been prevailed upon to take his partner Smaranda (Anamaria Marinca) and their child to the seaside. Smaranda is not happy in their relationship, and her discontent boils over when Boogie bumps into some old drinking buddies from when he was a single guy – and takes off with them.

 

Interestingly, Muntean offers no final reassurance that married life is better than the shallow pleasures of bachelordom. Hard choices and trade-offs must always be made, both for the young and the less young.

 

Toma Peiu for CinEuropa:

Screenwriters Razvan Radulescu, Alexandru Baciu and Muntean do a great job of capturing a very problematic period in a man’s life. Penescu and Iordache are the kind of evergreen guys that hang around looking free and available, readily preaching about how great it is not to have some pregnant, sour wife and demanding child to keep them from enjoying life. Which is precisely what they do when they meet Boogie.

 

Right from the start, Boogie behaves like a teenager: watching some crazy guys bathing in the freezing water, he can’t resist going in for a swim, despite Smaranda’s wise advice. Later that evening, the tension builds as it becomes clear that Penescu, Iordache and Smaranda are not getting along very well.

 

With Boogie and his friends acting more like “grown-up kids” than adults, reminiscing about their lives, Smaranda decides to take Adrian back to the hotel and leave the guys to their fun, unrestrained by her presence.

 

Boogie takes advantage of this momentary freedom to spend the night reliving his youth with Iordache, who actually works as a dishwasher in Sweden, and Penescu, who is tired of his obscure job at a tourist agency. All through the night they discover that things are not what they used to be and the generation gap is much deeper than Boogie expected – it is not only a question of age difference and things are all but simple.

 

Mike Lorefice for rbmovies.com:

Each scene has a strong undercurrent, desire and duty boiling just beneath the surface. Bogdan’s decisions of whether to join the boys at all, and then participate in the old events of smoking, drinking, and taking a whore all have great significance for Bogdan, but aren’t played up in the usual angel vs. devil manner.

 

Director Radu Muntean aims for balance rather than to set up conflicts, trying to believably depict the tug between what’s enjoyable, what’s ideal, what you really have the time and energy to pull off. In the end, the movie isn’t naive enough to set the responsibility, security, and relative good fortune of Bogdan’s current life vs. the idle humble freedom of lordache & Penescu. The characters are who they are, and can’t suddenly just swap. They can search for some sort of compromise, but ultimately Boogie is more about moving forward by accepting who you are.

 

Matthew Turner for View London:

The script perfectly captures the drunken banter and bravado of the three friends and their attempts to recapture their glory days are entirely believable. That said, the early stages of the film drag considerably, as it’s basically like being sober and being stuck listening to three drunken strangers.

 

The film picks up in the second half, as Boogie goes back to his hotel room, has an argument about commitment with Smaranda and then angrily goes out to rejoin his friends, with all three men going back to Iordache and Penescu’s hotel room with Ramona. Director Radu Muntean somehow manages to make these scenes feel exciting, suspenseful (will Boogie cheat on Smaranda?), funny and desperately sad all at the same time.

 

 

TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (2010)

 

Monday night, Muntean will be presenting the North American debut of Visiting Hours, his new doc about felon love. But it’s his most recent narrative feature that still has people talking.

 

Matt Noller for The House Next Door:

In a series of unshowy long takes, Tuesday, After Christmas follows Paul (Mimi Branescu), a married man whose affair with a young dentist (Maria Popistasu) destroys his relationship with his wife (Mirela Oprisor). It’s an old chestnut of a narrative, but Muntean’s sensitivity and steady eye allow him to capture a number of startlingly intimate and truthful moments without once veering into melodrama. Equal praise is owed the film’s trio of wonderful performers, who unearth the layers of emotion within intimacy and agitation.

 

Steven Zeitchik for 24 Frames:

It all sounds very ordinary, or even pedestrian, by art-house film standards. But if cinematic genius is taking a story we think we’ve seen before and telling it an entirely fresh way, Muntean is ready for Mensa. There are no melodramatic hysterics of the kind you’d see in the U.S. “Terms of Endearment”-esque version of the tale; even the movie’s climactic showdown feels wonderfully restrained. It’s simply absorbing, authentic storytelling, with filmmaking that’s distinctly stylized but never distracting.

 

Andrew O’Hehir for Salon:

On the one hand, Paul has fallen in love with Raluca, as he eventually confesses to Adriana, and in Woody Allen’s famous words, the heart wants what it wants. Most viewers, male or female, will identify with Paul’s predicament to some degree (if we’re being honest with ourselves). And you don’t want to resort to clichés like “he’s forgotten what’s really important in life”; I don’t think Muntean is arguing that personal happiness or erotic love don’t matter, or that people should stay married if they’re miserable. Issues that might be central in a different kind of movie are deliberately not addressed in this one, which focuses entirely on a few fateful days in the Yuletide season. Is Paul actively unhappy with Adriana, or just bored and restless? Does Raluca want to marry Paul and start a new family? Has this dumb bastard actually thought about the pain he’s inflicting on his wife and daughter, or about the basic principle that what goes around is likely to come around?

 

By declining to address those questions, and by making Paul more of a sympathetic figure than a villain or an incurable rogue, Muntean is actually twisting the knife way more deeply. I’m sure that in Romania “Tuesday, After Christmas” reads like an indictment of a particular class, and of the so-called freedom that came after the 1989 revolution, but outsiders shouldn’t confuse that with nostalgia for the Ceausescu dictatorship. (I’m pretty sure the number of Romanians who feel that way is zero.) More broadly this is a resonant, vivid and finally heartbreaking tale about the universal difficulty of marriage and the endless self-delusion of the human condition, driven by a trio of amazing dramatic performances. Best of all is Oprişor as the devastated but ferocious Adriana, who tells Paul, “You are the biggest disappointment of my life,” and then must go through all the Santa Claus rituals of one last family Christmas.

 

A.O. Scott for the New York Times:

“Realism” and “minimalism” — the terms often used to describe the tough, stripped-down movies that have been coming out of Romania in the past decade — seem both obvious and inadequate when applied to Mr. Muntean’s work. Like his most recent films, “The Paper Will Be Blue” (2006) and “Boogie” (2008), “Tuesday, After Christmas” diagrams, with remorseless, sympathetic clarity, the behavior of a man who is at once willful and passive.

 

Its formal economy is startling and subtle. The whole thing consists of a few dozen shots, with the camera moving only when it needs to. But nothing essential is missing, and the story is hardly simple. This is the realism of an M.R.I. scan or the X-rays of Mara’s mouth that Raluca shows to Paul and Adriana. The camera discloses truths that are ordinarily hidden from view and that, once revealed, are open to endless, agonizing interpretation.

 

“Tuesday, After Christmas” can feel at times like an uncomfortable intrusion into the intimacy of other people. Its opening scene records a moment of naked, postcoital languor, but our presence in the bedroom is in some ways less voyeuristic than what follows.

 

Watching a decade’s worth of trust and tenderness collapse, in real time, over coffee is more transgressive — you might say more pornographic — than witnessing a few minutes of erotic bliss. Mr. Branescu and Ms. Oprisor, actors of uncanny instinct and intuitive precision, are also a real-life couple, which may help to explain the easy, almost unconscious rapport that exists between Paul and Adriana, even as their relationship implodes.

 

Muntean himself in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine:

We wanted to avoid the superficial type of judgment that says a middle-aged man is leaving his wife because she became dull and unattractive, and they have nothing between them anymore. These are clichés. We also didn’t want to make the mistress pushy. Obviously, Paul is not a womanizer, jumping from one bed to another. It’s a film about a man who’s searching for happiness in a very basic way, who has a difficult choice to make. For me one of the most important [turning points] is the dental-office scene. From that moment on, everything changes in Paul. He can’t look at Adriana in the same way after that confrontation, after he somehow visualizes very clearly the guilt, the problem.

 

And Muntean in an interview with Slant:

Intimacy started to interest me a lot. I find what’s happening with people—intimacy, couples—more interesting than an action movie. The starting point of the film was this man in love with two women. For me, the main character hasn’t finished his relationship with his wife. There’s still something there. That’s what makes it painful and difficult, putting him in a situation where there is no good choice [between Adriana and Raluca]; either way it’s painful.

 

-Compiled by Tom McCormack

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