An extended family gathers to mark the death of its patriarch in an increasingly crowded Bucharest apartment. The priest’s lateness delays the meal but not the pouring of alcoholic beverages, spurring the reassessment of everything from 9/11 to old family resentments in “Sieranevada.”
Writer/director Cristi Puiu’s (“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” “Aurora”) fourth feature from 2016 delves into the currently hot topic of truth and reality through the lens of both history and personal experience. The film’s 172 minute running time is experienced in real time, its very first scene establishing Puiu’s method of providing us pieces of information from which to puzzle out a narrative (that is not to suggest that his film is in any way confusing). Barbu Balasoiu’s handheld cinematography, often shot in unimaginably long takes given the logistics of covering a large ensemble in over half a dozen rooms, is said by Puiu to be from the point of view of the dead man, Emil, husband of Nusa Mirica (Dana Dogaru) and father of main character Lary (Mimi Branescu, “Child’s Pose”).
It is initially Lary’s POV through which we observe his wife Laura (Catalina Moga) struggling on the street to get their young daughter off with an older caretaker. There is an outfit in contention, one which ‘her daddy’ got for her. Laura gets into the car with Lary and a battle begins - why did he buy a Sleeping Beauty costume for their daughter’s play when she is to be Snow White. Lary simply preferred it, thinking it more apropos of the Grimm Brothers tale, not realizing that this play is specifically about Disney heroines. Puiu’s established his dark sense of humor and his theme.
Laura wants to pick up groceries, but Lary objects, citing the feast that awaits them at an event they have already agreed to leave early. At his mother’s, sister Sandra (Judith State) is busy in the kitchen as her husband Gabi (Rolando Matsangos) snickers at their cousin Sebi’s (Marin Grigore) Internet conspiracy theories while mom herself prepares alms in the bedroom where her sister, Aunt Ofelia (Ana Ciontea), sobs over the latest outrage committed by her husband Toni (Sorin Medeleni). As newcomers arrive, family members are continually tasked with entertaining the Popescus, family friends ensconced in the living room. Sandra is driven to tears by the Communist propaganda spouted by Aunt Evelina (Tatiana Iekel). Cousin Cami (Ilona Brezoianu) arrives with a ‘sick’ friend who has the nerve to lie down on the men’s suit needed for their ritual. The last sibling, Relu (Bogdan Dumitrache), arrives from a military base with yet another take on political discussions. After the priest finally arrives, performs his ceremony, and leaves (Sandra disgusted by Evelina’s hypocrisy in his presence), everyone tries to get down to the matter of feasting, but more disruption awaits, Evelina in a tizzy over having soup spilled on her, Toni arriving to create a major scene with his increasingly hysterical wife. Meanwhile, Nusa is upset with Simona (Simona Ghita) for having purchased a suit in Emil’s size rather than Sebi’s, who is to wear it, and refuses to serve dinner until it is tailored to fit him.
Every interaction in this dynamic gathering seems to have multiple perspectives, Lary frequently stifling laughter at the absurdity of it all. But it is this easy going man who faces the harshest truth, his uncle’s infidelity bubbling up a childhood memory of his own father, the sharer of the secret so ironic as to cast doubt upon it. He unburdens himself to Laura, once again in their car, before returning to a memorial feast which is once again interrupted.
Don’t be put off by the film’s running time as once you become rapt within this extended family’s various traumas, you should hardly noticing it passing. Branescu leads an impressive ensemble who never feel like anything but the extended, squabbling family they portray, the filmmakers orchestrating a complex juggling act as the actors spin their individual threads. Puiu’s film is darkly hilarious as we note not only just how many lies are told and why but how easy it is to accept them.
Robin did not see this film.
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