dir. Cristi Puiu, 2016
173 mins. Romania.
In Romanian with English subtitles.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13 – 6:30 PM with introduction from Dorian Branea of the Romanian Cultural Institute


Cristi Puiu (THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU) sets his immersive 2016 dark comedy SIERANEVADA in the week following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris; in the film’s world, it’s also 40 days since the death of Emil, the patriarch of a Romanian family now led, if begrudgingly, by a gruff, hangdog dentist named Lary (Mimi Brănescu). Puiu’s film follows Lary while he attempts to navigate the build-up to his father’s memorial ceremony, wherein siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and neighbors will congregate in the family’s old Bucharest walk-up to say goodbye. On top of the 40-day wait, Emil’s farewell meal requires the blessing of an Orthodox priest, a spindly old man who, like Lary’s mother and grandmother, has survived the Communist regime of the infamous dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.

While the priest fails to appear, stomachs begin to grumble, and the act of going through with an ancient honorary rite of passage causes each member of this semi-functional family to cast their own aspersions – on the ritual, the deceased, and (maybe most crucially) on the murky path forward in Emil’s absence. Long-buried fault lines between relatives reveal themselves with each anxious sip of wine, but Lary endures it all with good-enough humor: interminable philosophical debates with an obsessed 9/11 truther, his womanizing uncle, a self-destructive teen cousin and her zonked-out friend, and his wife Laura’s (Cătălina Moga) palpable disenchantment, the reasons for which remain a mystery for much of Puiu’s duration.

Claustrophobic, caustic, and surprisingly moving, SIERANEVADA does not unfold in real time, but it feels close enough: 150 of its 173 minutes take place in Emil’s apartment, whose rooms we see only when one character needs to pull another aside to confide in nervous whispers. Puiu and his cinematographer Barbu Bălăsoiu masterfully toggle between naturalistic set pieces of breathless interpersonal drama, and moments of melancholy that border on fleeting reveries; good luck finding another movie from the last few years that so skillfully enmeshes the sacred and the profane without betraying the accuracy of its workaday details.

Praised as one very greatest films of the past few years, SIERANEVADA is still without U.S. distribution. Spectacle is pleased to host these limited edition holiday-time screenings of Puiu’s masterpiece, in the tradition of movies that make family and self inseparable, like HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, THE FAMILY STONE or WHEN DO WE EAT? – wherein the tendency towards self-loathing must jut uncomfortably against the fact that on these hallmark occasions, family is everything.

Presented thanks to the generous collaboration of the Romanian Cultural Institute.

“A bewildering, bitter, and amusing affair, as is family life; in fact, the film’s scale, in which long arguments extinguish themselves only to flame up again at the opening of a door, resembles lived experience much more closely than a moral tale, or one signifying nothing. A study of the walking wounded, it does not distinguish between the politics of parenting and patria, suggesting that change—and stagnation—is possible in both.”Elina Alter, BOMB

“Few films have made food look so unappetizing.”David Bordwell, Observations on Film Art

“From time to time we catch sight of a baby being cared for behind a succession of quickly opening and closing doors. Lary’s younger sister, Sandra (Judith State), slaves away in the kitchen while their mother, Nusa (Dana Dogaru), rules over the proceedings with practiced testiness. To single out more of the characters individually would seem almost inappropriate, not because they aren’t vivid screen presences (they are), but because they so seamlessly achieve the hectic, sprawling intimacy and spontaneity of a family unit in motion. This is ensemble acting of a remarkably high order.”Justin Chang, Variety

“Whether or not one finds this basic set-up hilarious or hard-going (or “taxing,” to quote Variety) may be a matter of cinematic taste or else familiarity with the pain and drag of family rituals… The incompatible worldviews of these people as they make small talk are one thing; it’s the clashing priorities and agendas that underlie the kibitzing—everything from the best way to memorialize Emil to the infinitely more delicate question of whether it’s okay to graze on hors d’oeuvres in the meantime—that catalyze scattered and accumulating outbursts of verbal-bordering-on-physical violence.”Adam Nayman, Reverse Shot

“It’s like Seinfeld, but on DMT.” – Steve Macfarlane, LiveJournal