SIERANEVADA (Cristi Puiu). 174 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 13). See listing. Rating: NNNNN
A 173-minute film set largely within a Bucharest apartment congested with mourners may sound as frigid, parched and severe as the (deliberately misspelled) mountains named in the title, yet Sieranevada pulses with humour, insight and momentum and is one of the most beautifully wrought films of the past year.
Unfolding over the space of a day, the latest from Cristi Puiu (The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu) chronicles an Eastern Orthodox ceremony designed to solemnly facilitate a soul’s ascension to the afterlife, but this wake for a beloved patriarch is continually disrupted by familial squalls concerning philandering spouses, conspiracy theories and an ill-fitting suit.
Puiu and cinematographer Barbu Balasoiu’s long-take camera choreography elegantly navigates the cramped setting. The tiny kitchen where cigarettes are smoked over dishes that never seem to get eaten, the dining room where soup is spilled and dirty laundry aired: the emotional microclimates are masterfully mapped.
The ongoing hubbub is managed with an agility and mischief that recalls Robert Altman as much as any of Puiu’s fellow New Romanian Cinema luminaries, yet there is an intimate scene about two-thirds of the way through Sieranevada that reveals the profound anxiety and loss quietly flowing beneath the surface of the film’s calamitous main event, reminding us that any group is made up of individuals undergoing their own private ritual.