Family’s are fun.
It’s the 10th of January in 2015, nearly three days after the terrorist attack on the offices of Parisian weekly Charlie Hebdo. Why does this matter? Well, a small, close-knit family reunites to commemorate the loss and the life of their patriarch, who passed away a few months beforehand. While this family is in doubt a dysfunctional bunch, they mostly try their best to get by, remember the good old times, have some holiday-joy, and oh yeah, eat. But there’s a lot of waiting around for that meal to come around, when you’ve got older relatives discussing Communism and its benefits, others discussing what really happened on 9/11, and other family-members freaking out about their lives literally falling apart.
In other words, it’s absolutely a family-gathering.
Sieranevada is the latest from writer/director Cristi Puiu and it’s only his third-feature in a little over a decade now, which already seems too low. I get it: In order for his nearly three-hour-long movies to work, he needs to be a little thought, time and effort into them. And of course, people aren’t exactly clamoring for three-hour long Romanian dark-comedies about people just living their lives and doing a whole lot of talking. I get that there’s not a huge, everlasting audience for those kind of movies and it’s probably hindered why we haven’t heard a whole lot from Puiu, but I’m part of that demographic who wants more of this, all of the time.
Which is to say that Sieranevada is nearly three-hours of craziness, fun, humor, hilarity, sadness, anger, and insight that you can only get with a movie done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Sure, Sieranevada takes awhile to get going and of course, you’ll still probably be tying together how all of these characters are related, their own lives, and what sorts of dramas are going on by the third-act, but there’s something exciting about that. Having a writer/director not telling you absolutely everything right off the bat and instead, letting you piece it all together yourself, is a joy because it’s so rarely done in movies and it has you look closer to what’s really going on.
And what may seem like just a bunch of scenes about family-members bickering and battering with one another, look closer, and it’s much deeper.
Puiu is smart to use his social-commentary in a way that isn’t too obvious or over-the-top, but still clearly gets its point across. As he did with the Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the idea of this one man getting tossed from one hospital to another, may have seemed like something of a joke, but was really hard-biting satire, without much of a punchline. It’s just a little sad, depressing, and altogether upsetting, and that’s what a whole lot of Sieranevada is, except a touch on the lighter-side, with it being all sorts of fun to just poke and prod at this family for being as crazy as they can get.
But Puiu kind of loves these characters, who they represent, what they bring to this little gathering, and just what sort of special relationship, or lack thereof, they have with one another. For a movie that comes close to three-hours, Puiu does a nice job of making it clear of who everyone is, their own little tidbits of personality, background, and allowing us to wait and see as the domino pieces fall. It is, once again, smart and thought-provoking writing and directing, that makes it feel even better when you get to the end of the movie and you’ve laughed a whole lot, maybe even teared-up, and hell, came away from it a whole lot more enlightened about the world beyond your government-borders.
And hell, your eyes will definitely be tired after all of that reading.
As are mine. So, goodnight.
Consensus: A three-hour film about a bunch of Romanian people arguing with one another may not sound like a joyous good time, but Puiu’s script is so well-done, his characters so rich, and the ensemble so good, Sieranevada becomes that after some time to get used to it all.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Mandragora