(Cristi Puiu, 2016)
Sieranevada screens at the AMC River East on Monday, October 24 at 2:45PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
Afford your attention to Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, concentrate on its minute details, and embrace its moment-to-moment accesses of the banal and boring, and the film will reveal itself to you as something genuinely enjoyable. I know, it’s not a convincing sell, especially when the alternative is not concentrating intently on a three-hour Romanian film. One’s appreciation for Sieranevada will largely have to do with your temperament and ability to negotiate with Puiu’s endurance test – as someone who was reticent to accept Puiu’s tempo, I was quickly won over by his film’s formal proficiency, the realism of its performances, and humor.
A prologue introduces Lary (Mimi Brănescu) and his wife Laura (Catalina Moga) as they drive to a memorial service for Lary’s father. An argument, the first in a series, occurs between the two whereby Laura reprimands Lary for purchasing the wrong dress for their daughter. The argument serves as your navigational guide to what follows, as Puiu will litter similarly structured arguments throughout Sierranevada. What we gather from the argument is an exchange that sees no victor, whereby the petty concerns of the day take hold of every person we encounter through the film.
Puiu isolates the many characters of the film within an apartment, centralizing his camera in its foyer as he pivots from door to door, entering one or the other to explore what’s going on in each room. From 9/11 conspiracy theories to lively debates on Ceaușescu, the members of this family express a great deal of antagonism toward one another as they await the arrival of a priest to carry out the ceremony of the day. Waiting, the liquor quickly dissipates (though they are prohibited to eat until the ceremony is carried out) and tempers flare.
You’ll be immediately struck by Puiu’s realism and capacity to replicate the exact lulls and tempo of conversation between the familial. Or at least it replicates my own Polish upbringing, where heated conversations between my mother and uncle would often derail an evening, only to have the whole situation remedied and forgotten fifteen minutes later. Even without that immediate connection I had with Sieranevada, Puiu’s approach is refreshing, where he actively engages with the audience to participate as a member of this clan: details are only provided within context, testing filmgoers in its early stretch where details of who’s who are infrequently relayed or can only be figured out by context clues. You don’t even know why you’re in this apartment until nearly a quarter of the way thorough the film! You’re made to work for your information, and that kind of active participation goes a long way toward creating a bond with every character that populates this tiny apartment.