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By Filipe Freitas | March 13, 2018

The films of Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu usually contain a fascinating blend of thoughtful realism and pungent social commentary. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Aurora, his second and third movies, respectively, marked the peak of an auspicious career whose impact softened up a bit with the practically unknown Three Exercises of Interpretation, which lacked a proper distribution.

His new comedy-drama, cryptically entitled Sieranevada, finds his focus on family matters, living from awkward situations and clear-cut observations while adopting a sly pose. It’s all condensed in a package of effervescent tension that lasts for 173 minutes.

The script can be a hard nut to crack, mostly because of the political references that occasionally wallow in the dark past of the country.

Puiu designates Lary (Mimi Branescu) as the main focus of a story that takes place in Bucharest during one single day. He is a specialized doctor who apparently is doing great in life just by selling medical equipment. His wife, Laura (Catalina Moga) is a compulsive shopper who can’t hide a wide grin whenever she’s in possession of her husband’s credit card.

“…awkward situations and clear-cut observations while adopting a sly pose.”

They are heading to a traditional family reunion in his mother’s house that will serve to remember the 40th day of his father’s death. The important occasion is supposed to be addressed with joy, respect, and total commitment, however, the behavior of a few characters undermines the plan.

Once they get there, we are gradually introduced to the many members of the family, an undertaking that takes some time. Lary’s mother, Nusa (Dana Dogaru), stands up for her devastated sister Ofelia (Ana Ciontea), whose quarrelsome husband, Toni (Sorin Medeleni), is being systematically unfaithful to her over the years. Sandra (Judith State) and Relu (Bogdan Dumitrache) are Lary’s siblings, and while the former cries when poked by aunt Evelina (Tatiana Iekel), a staunch supporter of the old Communism and a camouflaged antagonist of the church, the latter is a communications officer who confesses he’s dabbled in fear. Sandra’s husband, Gabi (Rolando Matsangos), and her cousin, Sebi (Marin Grigore), embark in animated political debates that have the Internet as a frequent mediator. Sebi’s younger sister, Cami (Ilona Brezoianu), loves night parties and drags a junkie Serbian friend into the house, causing everyone to panic. The only guests are the Popescus who seem as much shocked as uncomfortable with the disarrangement.

“…a generous number of disconcerting and delightful episodes.”

The funniest aspect of the movie is that everyone is extremely hungry – Lary, for instance, didn’t eat anything the whole day – and to overcome all the unexpected predicaments before finally sitting down, hang loose, and fill their empty stomachs, seems to take forever.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some moviegoers find Sieranevada a bit overlong and sometimes even repetitive in its almost exclusive indoor/conversational mode. In fact, I see the house factor somewhat limiting, maybe because one of the most thrilling incidents happens on the street, in a hyper realistic disarray that involves Lary and Laura.

On the other side, it is no less true that I exulted with a generous number of disconcerting and delightful episodes where Puiu, employing his directorial competence to better capture the family’s moves with sharpness and wittiness, attempts to satirize life in today’s unstable Romania.

Sieranevada (2016) Written and Directed by Cristi Puiu. Starring: Mimi Branescu, Judith State, Bogdan Dumitrache, Dana Dogaru, Sorin Medeleni, Ana Ciontea.

7 out of 10

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