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FNE at Cannes 2016: Review: Sieranevada

2016-05-13

CANNES: Romanian director Cristi Puiu makes his debut in competition in Cannes with the darkly perplexing Sieranevada. But the director is no stranger to Cannes.

Puiu is often credited for having spawned the Romanian New Wave with his 2005 Un Certain Regard winner The Death of Mr Lazarescu another dark and philosophical comedy set in Romania and his rather demanding 2010 film Aurora about an ordinary day for a Romanian hit man also screened in Cannes.

Puiu is a master of the long form and Sieranevada weighs in at 173 minutes so it takes patience to watch the relationships play out between its characters in almost real time. The title which seems to have no connection to the American mountain range and is never explained along with much else in the film which the director leaves to the audience to figure out.

In The Death of Mr Lazarescu we watch the last hours as an old man dies while in Sieranevada the central character Emil has already died and we watch as a large cast of family and related friends or relatives gather in a Bucharest apartment 40 days after his death to see off his soul to heaven.

The family event is also three days after the terrorist attack on the offices of the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo that shocked the world and Puiu Lary a doctor in his forties played by Mimi Branescu is Emil’s son and the gathering will be a time when everyone has to confront the past both Emil’s past and Lary’s.

The action mostly takes place in the cramped apartment of Nasu Mirica played by Dana Dogaru who is Emil’s widow.  A prolific number of family members including Lary and his wife Larua played by Catalina Moga gather there for a memorial service.  Puiu does not explain much about the characters of this extended Romanian family allowing us to enter the apartment as one of the family.  The dialogue is funny and convincing and the characters and their relationships are revealed through trivial conversations and fights like an argument over a dress for one of the children.

But Emil’s ghost still inhabits the apartment and the family gathering is set to reveal truths about the lies and infidelities of his life and other family members. Lary will be forced to redefine his place within the family while everyone finds that they have their own version of the truth and domestic lies and infidelities ripple out into the wider world of lies and loyalties in politics and global relationships.

This is an ensemble piece and Puiu uses the relationships between the dozen or more gathered family members to look at how we define ourselves within our relationships to others and adjust our vision of ourselves.  Puiu handles this large cast with the skill of a master drawing excellent performances for all the actors. The theme that no man is an island runs through the film in a very philosophical way as we join in this family affair. While the length may be challenging those who appreciate the subtleties of the Romanian New Wave will not go away unrewarded.

Sieranevada (Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, France)
Directed by Cristi Puiu
Produced by Mandragora
Coproduced by Studioul de Creaţie Cinematografică Romania, 2006 d.o.o., Spiritus Movens, Sisters and Brother Mitevski Production, Alcatraz Films
Supported by the Romanian National Film Centre, Eurimages, the Croatian Audiovisual Centre

Cast:Mimi Brănescu, Judith State, Bogdan Dumitrache, Dana Dogaru, Sorin Medeleni, Ana Ciontea, Rolando Matsangos, Cătălina Moga, Marin Grigore, Tatiana Iekel, Marin Ralea, Ioana Crăciunescu, Ilona Brezoianu, Simona Ghiă, Valer Dellakeza, Andi Vasluianu, Mara Elena Andrei, Petra Kurtela

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