A patriarch’s wake turns into a full-on familial tempest, in the brilliant new film from uncompromising Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu).
A highlight of this year's Cannes Competition, Sieranevada is the latest masterwork from uncompromising Romanian auteur Cristi Puiu. Rivalling the ingenuity and intelligence of his landmark debut The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Puiu's latest takes place over a single day in Bucharest as the Mirica family gathers for an increasingly deferred meal, part of an Orthodox tradition meant to usher the soul of clan patriarch Emil to Heaven — but it's all Hell that breaks loose in this protracted, procedural, and terrifically lifelike comédie humaine.
Set precisely on January 10, 2015 — three days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris — the enigmatically titled Sieranevada develops a masterfully controlled chaos as nested family dramas, neuroses, and secrets emerge over the course of the day. Conspiracy theories commingle with marital tensions, infidelities, mourning, and sibling rivalry as more than a dozen people cram into the widow's dark and fusty apartment and the dinner dishes are distributed, restacked, and redistributed as the familial tempest constantly delays the repast. Standing at a strategic remove from the action, the eye-level camera calmly pans between rooms like an onlooker at a tennis match — or perhaps as the POV of Emil's hovering spirit, as his family's complicated dynamics absurdly impede the proceedings of his memorial.
Though Puiu offers no family tree for his fractious ensemble, his characters are so compellingly etched and ingeniously refracted by one another that he not only holds our rapt attention, but elicits our bemusement, sympathy, and perhaps even side-taking during some of the expletive laden outbursts. With Sieranevada, Puiu has created one of cinema's great human frescos and social portraits — not to mention one of the most virtuosic dinner-table set pieces in film history, worthy to stand beside Renoir's The Rules of the Game or Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel.
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