Romanian director Radu Muntean’s intensely observed domestic drama Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) is about the end of a marriage and the start of an affair. Paul (Mimi Branescu), a well-off, middle-class Romanian living in Bucharest has to make a choice between the two women he loves. Happily married to Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), Paul has also fallen for a younger woman Raluca (Maria Popistasu), his daughter’s orthodontist.
Tuesday, After Christmas begins with Raluca and Paul, post-lovemaking – a scene that is uncomfortable to watch and feels almost voyeuristic in its intimacy. She is young and pretty, he is past his best and beginning to show signs of middle-age spread, but with a gentle, rugged charm. We then catch glimpses of his comfortable existence with Adriana and nine-year-old daughter Mara as they prepare for Christmas – an ordinary but happy marriage, conveyed through short scenes of them in the bathroom together, out shopping, eating an evening meal or on the phone to one another.
Played out over a few days during the holiday period, Muntean’s sparse narrative is deliberately understated. One of the most excruciating moments in Tuesday, After Christmas comes when Adriana unexpectedly decides to accompany Paul to Mara’s dental appointment. Completely oblivious that Raluca is her husband’s lover, Adriana converses easily with her as they examine x-rays together and discuss the extent of Mara’s overbite, while Paul stands apart, careful not to catch Raluca’s eye. This seemingly banal scene is full of emotional intensity and perfectly illustrates Muntean’s talent for dramatic realism.
When Paul finally tells Adriana that he is in love with another woman, the moment is completely unexpected. In laying bare his characters’ inner lives, Mundane cleverly manipulates his audience into feeling their anguish. Oprisor effortlessly conveys Adriana’s quiet devastation at her husband’s betrayal through minimal words and gestures. Branescu is also superb as a man struggling to make the right decision, never entirely sure of his true motives.
Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas really catches you unawares – a beautifully executed and well-acted slow-burner of a film that undeniably packs a punch.