Sieranevada is an often charming, occasionally tedious, and relentlessly honest family drama written and directed by Romanian filmmaker Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu).

Set three days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Sieranevada follows a doctor, Lary (Mimi Branescu), and his wife (Judith State) as they attend a family gathering at Lary’s mother’s home in honour of his recently deceased father.  As the ceremonial dinner – an Orthodox tradition meant to ease the path of the deceased’s soul into heaven – is delayed, the reunion becomes a chaos of warring spouses, tantrums, and conspiracy theories.  Everyone is constantly talking, but it is increasingly uncertain who is telling the truth.

Of course, this familial tumult is representative of the social, historical, and political uncertainties that surround the characters.  Lary and his siblings struggle not only to orient themselves within the changed landscape of their family, but within the changed political landscape of the world since the start of the so-called “war on terror”.  It is a rather transparent theme, but one that never becomes overbearing.  The most refreshing aspect of Sieranevada is its portrayal of the internal dynamics and conflicts of a family struggling with the loss of one of their own.  Exchanges between family members feel real and truthful, even when they aren’t necessarily telling the truth, in a way that films hardly ever get right.

Sieranevada also involves clever manipulation of space, time, and positioning.  Puiu makes frequent use of long shots with the camera positioned in the hall way, panning to follow characters as they interact with family members in different rooms of the apartment.  As viewers, we are constantly seeking to orient ourselves along with the characters.  As we reposition ourselves within the widow’s cramped apartment, time slows to a crawl or rapidly speeds up to reflect Lary’s feelings and perspective.

This is not a film for the faint-hearted or those seeking a passive moviegoing experience;  subtitles, endless dialogue, and a nearly three-hour run-time are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.  However, those who appreciate Puiu’s approach to storytelling with find plenty to reward their attention spans.


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