Anyone who has ever found themselves caught in the crossfire of a futile family feud, no matter what the scale, are all but guaranteed to writhe with discomfort at regular intervals throughout Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s dysfunctional domestic drama, Sieranevada.
An almost wordless prologue that tracks, in a single take, the movements of married couple Lary (Branescu Mimi) and Laura (Catalina Moga) from an adjacent pavement as they drop their daughter off at a babysitter’s apartment, may initially appear distancing, but it’s a smart move by Puiu to ensure his audience have time to gather their breath. For moments later, they’ll find themselves belted into the backseat of Lary’s SUV, and obliged to look on as he & Laura bicker over a Disney dress brought for their young girl.
Such trivial squabbling soon appears marginal, however, compared to what awaits them when they reach the flat of Lary’s mother Nusa (Dana Dogaru). Six weeks prior, the family’s patriarch Emil died of a heart attack, and now those closest to him have gathered to commemorate the deceased. A traditional Orthodox feast is planned to help see his soul pass on into heaven, and a local priest is due to be in attendance, charged with blessing the occasion. But with the constricting environment causing everyone’s tempers to gradually rise, there’s a chance that not everyone will be sticking around to see dinner finally served.
During his brief but substantial career thus far, Puiu has grown to become recognised as an influential voice within the Romanian New Wave, and here his style once more personifies the distinctive principles of that genre. Trapped, predominantly, within the sparse confines of Nusa’s cramped apartment, the director’s aesthetically austere approach amplifies an atmosphere of formidable constraint. DP Barbu Balasoiu regularly positions his camera in the flat’s hallway and allows it to glide on an axis between rooms: the audience mentally straining to follow the different dynamics of Puiu’s script as the conversation shifts between disagreements over closely-held personal beliefs, and widespread conspiracy theories.
Displaying Shakespearean skills as a scribe, Puiu theatrically interweaves his writing with scenes of farce that revel in the ridiculousness of real life; this simmering chamber piece cured by a cynical streak of comedy that’s closer in tone to classic British sitcom – the naturalism within each of the ensemble’s performances allowing such components to cleverly compliment the film.
Clocking in close to an attention-testing 3 hours in length, Sieranevada is a film that requires your complete commitment. Utterly engrossing, it is, at times, so draining as to leave you ultimately exhausted.
Director: Cristi Puiu
Writer: Cristi Puiu
Stars: Mimi Branescu, Mirela Apostu, Eugenia Bosânceanu
Runtime: 175 mins
Country: Romania, France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Republic of Macedonia