Though Romanian director Cristi Puiu sets his latest film, Sieranevada, at a family gathering commemorating the death of a late patriarch, the filmmaker has much more on his mind than simple grief. Taking place soon after the attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices and bringing together communists, conservatives, adulterers and a 9/11 truther, this film is an ideological battleground where, rather than hash out bare interpersonal issues, family members mask their disagreements with pious beliefs. The closest thing to a protagonist is Lary, the eldest brother of the middle generation, who treats the disagreements of his family with an almost lackadaisical indifference. To him, the bickering is to be expected and he approaches the proceedings with the air of a man long since exhausted beyond sincere care—at least until he comes to confront his own demons halfway through the film’s third hour.
It’s easy to laugh along with Larry without sacrificing empathy thanks to a terrific script which depicts familial dysfunction naturally and without contrivance better than nearly any other film in recent memory. The playful tedium of Puiu’s script is assisted by the odd, rigid formalism of his direction. Most of the scenes in Sieranevada are filmed in one take, and each shot is roughly the same: a camera, locked in one location, pans and tilts across the action, pausing on meticulously organized, if often cluttered, frames. If nothing else, the technique evokes the feeling of being trapped at a family reunion, surrounded by people who will never get along.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 1.