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January 22, 2021

The day’s bill at Cannes: Cristi Puiu’s ‘Sieranevada’ enters official competition

‘Sieranevada,’ the second film to enter the competition for the Palme d’Or, after Alain Guiraud’s ‘Rester vertical,’ is part of the bill of the festival’s first working day. This is the moment when journalists and members of the juries start to prepare their “homework” while keeping a close eye on every film.

Cristi Puiu, the author of ‘Sieranevada,’ is one of the regular presences at the festival, making his mark here on his first participation. Following his year 2000 debut, with ‘Marfa si banii,’ Puiu appeared on the bill at Cannes in 2005, when ‘Moartea domnului Lazarescu’ brought him the award of the section he had been competing in – Un certain regard. ‘Aurora’ was included in the same section in 2010. In 2014, his feature film (‘Recviem’) received standing ovations, being included in a collective project – ‘Bridges of Sarajevo.’

2016 could be the year of getting one’s own back if we bear in mind that many people regretted the fact that ‘Moartea domnului Lazarescu’ was not included in the Palme d’Or competition, in roughly the same manner in which leaving Lucian Pintilie’s ‘Balanta’ out of the competition in the same first section was regretted in 1992.

The interest with which the international press waited for the series of screenings of his new creation – the Sieranevada coproduction – is thus not at all by chance. It is a family film, but also one featuring a funeral setting, which becomes a mere pretext. According to the Orthodox rite, the deceased is given a memorial service 40 days after his burial. The son, Larry, a doctor, organises the event with the help of his wife and of closer or more distant relatives: brothers, wives, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, cousins and several unknown persons. The film does not deal with the commemorative process, moving instead in the direction of a reminiscing of old realities, dating back from the communist era, in a dramatic, harsh debate featuring high points but also bitter conclusions. A memorable scene: after Larry leaves the apartment, his wife is trying to present him the reality of the things that happened, as he is driving around the apartment building.

Indoor settings (in this case an apartment) suit Puiu, who manages, among other things, the performance of working with a group of 16 actors, making sure that each one of them gives his best. Mimi Branescu, an artist so far overlooked by international awards, plays Larry. But a series of other remarkable actors responded to the director’s call: Ana Ciontea (as Aunt Ofelia), Ioana Craciunescu (Ms. Popescu), Valer Dellakeza (the Priest), Dana Duma (Ms. Mirica), Bogdan Dumitrache (Relu), Tatiana Iekel (Evelina).

The critics of the main publications have commented on the new film, without forgetting ‘Moartea domnului Lazarescu,’ which also dealt with a road toward death, noting that this time the film depicts a post-burial family get-together. Variety’s critic for instance, emphasised the “cathartic” aspect of the drama that unfolds as an unburdening, a release, without overlooking the camera work, noticing how the director hunts the characters in order to capture their energies on camera.

Bruno Dumont’s much-discussed film (Slack Bay) also made it on the bill, thrown into the competition with somewhat of a delay. Heavy names, such as Ken Loach (‘I, Daniel Blake’), are to follow.

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