With a delay of three years I managed to see Cristi Puiu's 'Sieranevada', a film that I had read and heard much about. Three years are certainly not enough for a 'historical' perspective but they are enough to better place the film in the context of what happened in the Romanian cinema before and after it and to understand the rather heated disputes it has created among critics and viewers. The film is indeed complex but also complicated, interesting but also long, providing many reasons to like it but also a few that can leave viewers from different categories of audience confused or dissatisfied.
The opening scene looks like a quote from the other new wave, the French one. A camera set up at a fixed point shoots for a few minutes a Bucharest intersection, with the chaos, agglomeration and noise that we know. The characters of the film, which we do not distinguish, are still silhouettes among the many that make up this hubbub. We'll follow two of them in a car that drives them for several minutes to the apartment where most of the action of the film is taking place. There they join the family reunited for the commemoration meal (following a regional traditional custom!) of the head of the family, who had died 40 days ago. For two hours, almost in real time, we will witness the ceremony, discussions, conflicts of a family large enough to include some of the characters known to those living in Romania today - the physician who abandoned his job for a more profitable trade , a young supporter of conspiracy theories, the older generation of those economically affected by the transition who try to adapt with little success to the new realities, a nostalgic for the communist regime, the young woman with dubious connections and habits including suspected drug use, the priest who is late due to a busy schedule because the religious business is going full on, couples in crisis or marriages already broken up. A beautifully constructed mosaic, a diverse and tormented world. And yet, they will also meet at future occasions or holidays, because family and friendship ties, together with adherence to a religious tradition that is not forgotten or abandoned, are the only links that somehow hold together the Romanian social fabric. These and maybe also the humor.
It is worth watching how Cristi Puiu and his cinematographer Barbu Balasoiu work with the camera. Sometimes the frame is fixed, most often mobile, it follows the point of view of one character or another, giving the feeling of a claustrophobic maze in the 3 or 4 room apartment where the action takes place. It is a sensation programmatically induced to the spectators, when we are outside the apartment we are dealing with the same chaos, with the same maze of human relations in crisis, only that the spaces are more open, but the atmosphere is frozen. The semi-darkness predominates and makes the film not easy to watch, also the sound capture is not optimal, but I think that the reason does not lie in technical issues but in the decisions of the director. Acting is superb, mentioning any name will do an injustice to all the other. The film captivated me and I did not feel or resempt the length at any time. But I can understand those who did not like the duration, or had difficulties in tracking the image or voices, because Cristi Puiu did not aim the aesthetics but wanted to convey ideas and sensations. Foreign viewers will have difficulties understanding many nuances, and those in Romania who are tired or exasperated by the mirrors that some of the contemporary directors put in front of them also have reasons to be upset. As much as I liked the movie, I believe that the minimalist formula has exhausted its resources and has certainly lost the elements of surprise and novelty. That's why I'm not surprised that the movie was ignored in the Cannes palmares. In 2005, Cristi Puiu made one of the first remarkable films of the new wave of Romanian cinema - 'The Death of Mr. Lazarescu'. 'Sieranevada' made in 2016 may be one of the last outstanding films of this wave.