Dir: Radu Muntean.Romania. 2010. 99mins
Despite all its praiseworthy qualities, of which it has many, Radu Muntean’s picture take on an intentionally unoriginal plot, a married man having to choose between wife and lover, is ultimately a precise, well-fashioned but underwhelming exercise.
The highly advertised opening sequence played entirely in the buff by Branescu (the husband) and Popistasu (his lover) may draw attention.
Coming to grips with the actual conflict only in its last half hour, he indulges up to that point in a particularly cool approach, which lacks the undercurrent of urgency that might shake up his audience.
Fine, sensitive performances by Mimi Branescu, Mirela Oprisor and Maria Popistasu, distinctly minimalist camera work and fluently cursive - but over-abundant dialogue - should have amounted to a powerfully emotional drama hidden behind the banality of events, but sadly enough this does not happen until it is too late.
Though the highly advertised opening sequence played entirely in the buff by Branescu (the husband) and Popistasu (his lover) may draw attention, this is hardly enough for Muntean’s latest effort to go far beyond festival territory.
Paul (Branescu), an upper middleclass businessman, is happily married to Adriana (Oprisor), has a nine year-old daughter (Paul-Szel) and a five months old affair with a blonde dentist, Raluca (Popistasu).
The wife does not suspect her husband; the husband is not worried about the wife, and the lover tries to put up a brave act, never pressuring her partner towards any decisive decision, though there is a distinct whiff of discontent in their relationship. When the two women meet face-to-face seeing them together triggers some kind of process in Paul, who eventually admitting to his wife about the affair
It is only at this point, in a series of very well-directed and performed sequences that the story actually catches fire, though the audience is spared the most painful part of a divorce which should take place after the end of the film.
Far removed from the misery, political innuendoes or social issues that used to be once the earmark of Romanian cinema, Muntean places his story in a milieu familiar to any Western middle-class viewer.
That’s the way things happen in the real world today, he seems to say. But, just like in his previous Cannes outing (Boogie, which screened in 2008 Directors Fortnight), the solid conception behind the film would have worked much better if the drama had been distributed more evenly through the plot, instead of being condensed in its last section.
When this does happen, the confrontation between Branescu’s gruffly contained husband who feels he has to make a choice and face the music, and Oprisor’s despondent wife whose anger at being cheated rises to an almost hysterical explosion, is powerfully effective. But by that time, there is a distinct risk that many of the viewers had already lost interest in the proceedings.
Production companies: Multimedia Est
International sales: Films Boutique, +39 30 6953 7850
Executive Producer: Dragos Vilcu
Screenplay: Alexandru Baciu, Razvan Radulescu, Radu Muntean
Cinematography: Tudor Lucaciu
Production designer: Sorin Dima
Editor: Alexandru Radu
Main cast: Mimi Branescu, Mirela Oprisor, Maria Popistasu, Sasa Paul-Szel, Dragos Bucur, Victor Rebenciug, Dana Dembinski, Silvia Nastase