Overview: A family gathers to commemorate a deceased father with a shared meal. Mandragora Movies, 2016, 173 Minutes.
A Slow Step Forward: When you consider that directors like Thomas Vinterburg and Christian Mungiu are able to capture the barebones viscera that Cristi Puiu strives for in Sieranevada (and his entire filmography) in under ninety minutes with The Celebration and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days respectfully, it becomes harder to appreciate Puiu’s style, which aims for the same painstaking reality through replicating exclusively the boring bits. Sieranevada, with a 173 minute run time, though an improvement from the terse and somehow even more meandering construct of the director’s earlier Aurora, replaces silent fumbling for truth with trivial, aimless dialogue that only begins to satisfy in the the very last hour, when the film’s plot really begins to transpire.
Sieranevada follows a family reunion, three days after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks and weeks after the death of a family patriarch. In preparation for the wake, the family members discover things about each other that would better be kept secret. They uncover fairy-tales and conspiracy theories (in a way so that the two are widely different from each other). Tension is occasionally felt but stumbles over the crude, honestly-not-that-funny humor that interrupt the script.
Boiling Point: As the day progresses and the family members await the priest, each attendee growing hungrier and more intoxicated with each minute, a kettle boils to a steaming screech. Though the screaming gets tiresome quick, it holds unrelentingly. This shrill tone of conversation makes it easy for the viewer to become disillusioned to anything that the family-members say, their conversation always unfocused to the point of burying itself with volume.
Ostensibly a one location film, Sieranevada really relies heavily on camerawork. Cinematographer Barbu Bălăşoiu’s perspective acts as the audience’s attending surrogate, his camera sometimes lingers and other times is easily distracted, going one direction then doubling back to catch a seemingly unchoreographed glimpse of whoever is speaking. The participatory style conjures an expectation of a documentary-filmed truth, and this expectation is accentuated by realistic performances, while long takes and the emphasis on conversation and dialogue gives the home and the film a more theatrical feel, the two elements sort of symbolic conversation on truth and sincerity in cinema. The set design is fantastic and convincing, and Puiu’s use of the modest home is is employed brilliantly to establish claustrophobia and discomfort.
Overall: Patience is a virtue, but not when it erodes the pacing of a film so long that it demands patience. The pursuit of reality through the cinematic is noble and expected, but not when the reality offers mostly dreary nonsense – the kind of busy talk conversation that one makes at a party and then quickly forgets.