Sieranevada, the latest feature from Cristi Puiu invites you into a small flat for a Romanian family gathering and barely lets you leave. If Mike Leigh were commissioned to make an extra-long, all-Romanian episode of Him and Her, this film would be the absorbing result.
After a few artful, painstakingly patient scenes of set-up, in which we are introduced to an arguing married couple, Lary (Mimi Braňescu) and his wife (Dana Dogaru), on their way to a family gathering. The film is set on an anniversary of the death of Lary’s father, and a few days after the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. This second circumstance is not so important but for its occurrence as a topic of conversation among relatives, a video of the attacks leading to a protracted discussion of 9/11 conspiracy theories. As an engagement with then-topical events, this conversation lends such a sense of authenticity to the way families interact, the dialogue seeming remarkably real.
“[a] palpable sense of life, of human connection and interaction”
For the major part of its 2 hour 53 minute runtime, Sieranevada does not leave the family’s apartment. In spite of this ostensibly confining premise, the film finds a way to inject the space with a constantly surprising dynamism. At certain parts, the camera is rooted to a spot in the hall, swinging from side to side as people move around, doors opening and closing. At other times the film is content to sit back, daringly still. Credit must go to the bold direction, but also, presumably, to the cinematographer, Barbu Balasoiu.
The actual drama that unfolds is massively varied in tone; at times, there is an air of farce, at others, stifling sincerity. One quality that remains consistent is the palpable sense of life, of human connection and interaction. Sieranevada stands as triumph of atmosphere, an overlong and understated work that nevertheless thrives on the rich, conflicting intimacies of the human condition.
Image: Cristi Puiu