I have previously seen only the first film of director Radu MunteanFuria (The Anger) made in 2002 – and I remember it as a very different kind of film. The style was dynamic and dramatic, and the theme was related to the period of transition of Romania after the fall of the Communism, with strong critical social accents against the decay of the morals and culture of these troubled times. Eight years and three films later Marti, dupa Craciun (Tuesday After Christmas) which I saw yesterday at the Herzlya Cinematheque is a very different kind of movie. The social commentary is not at all in focus here (although not completely absent), the localization is not important as the story could happen any place and any time, and the style is very different, aligned with what became known as the Romanian ‘minimalist’ New Wave style. What is common is the quality. The promise that Muntean was showing in that first movie turned now into the work of a mature director, fully mastering his tools, very sure on the story he wants to tell and the way he tells it.

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Marti, dupa Craciun tells a classical love story of a triangle that is caught in the critical moment of the relationship. To emphasize the dramatic lines of the conflict the segment in time that the script chooses are days before Christmas, the ultimate family holidays seasons. It is at that moment of the year that Paul Hanganu, a successful banking adviser in his mid 30s must chose between his lawyer wife Adriana and the younger dentist Raluca, with whom he has fallen irreversibly and incurably in love.  No moral judgment is made about the situation or about the decision, love (in good Romanian literature tradition I may say) is looked at as an indisputable work of destiny, something one cannot fight, closer to disease or witchcraft than rational decisions. The whole story evolves around these three characters and their close family and friends circle which is busy with the holiday routine. A fragile balance oscillates not only in the soul and mind of the man who must chose between the stability and fidelity of his wife and the  intensity of the feelings for his lover, but also between the lie of a relation that if revealed will be condemned by the social environment, and the truth of the sentiment in the new relationship. If eventually the truth is to prevail it will be at a high cost and nobody will be happy the day after Christmas. Fulfillment of love comes at a price, and there is no such thing as fair game in triangle relations.


(video source undo251280)
The ‘minimalist’ style is poignant in this film and works well, which may become in time one of the examples that explains in cinema schools how the method works. We have here all the principal characteristics of the style – the long and static shots where the focus is left to the actors, the low tone in which the story is told with realist and sincere dialogs, the avoidance of any sophisticated settings or complicated camera work. In order for the method to work good actors are needed, and director Muntean directs the work of a wonderful team, with Mimi Branescu (Paul), Mirela Oprisor (Adriana) and Maria Popistasu (Raluca) in the principal roles. Memorable scenes like the opening which sets the context of the sexual tension that drives the whole story,  the scene in the dentist’ s cabinet where the three characters dance around the innocence of the little girl of Paul and Adriana who is the potential victim of the story, part of them knowing the truth and part ignoring it, the scene of the revelation of the truth when the world of Adriana falls apart, and the final scene, where the Christmas carols symbolize the serenity and sacredness of the holidays, and of the stable family life which does not exist any longer, because the day after comes after any holiday.

For many years the Romanian cinema had to pay a double dept – describing the Communist era with its lies and oppression, and dealing with the reality of the traumatic transition of Romania from dictatorship to democracy. Hesitating in style for more than a decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the accumulated energy burst to life after the first years of the century with the young directors of the new wave, in a style that had to deal with the economy of means of a cinema school that works at low budgets, and with a need and capacity of telling the truth and being true to the themes it dealt with and with its viewers. This is one of the big qualities of Marti, dupa Craciun – it is true in its message and never sounds false or artificial. It is good to see that the young directors of the new wave who are not that young any longer continue to be true to themselves, while gaining in experience and maturity. It is also good to see that new themes and new environments show up in the Romanian films. Marti dupa Craciun is a mid-class drama which describes a Romania that goes beyond the social traumas of the past. Such movies and such themes are good and necessary for a mature cinema school.