Radu Muntean, director and co-writer of the quietly powerful and erotic adultery drama Tuesday, After Christmas, is riding the crest of the Romanian New Wave. But this affable, assured young filmmaker resists such labels. In his mind, he’s simply a Romanian filmmaker lucky to have his work picked up for distribution. With Tuesday, After Christmas poised to attract more attention than any of Muntean’s previous films (which have had little or no exposure in America), Slant spoke with the director about his approach to filming his absorbing adultery tale.
The film’s opening scenes show the characters, Paul and his mistress Raluca, smiling and naked in bed. It’s very sexy and candid, setting up the film’s realistic tone. What made you decide to give viewers this striking first impression?
We didn’t mean it to be sexy. It was meant to be intimate and to show that they are good together somehow. The characters have already passed the infatuation phase.
I like that there’s a familiarity between the characters—especially the way Paul treats Raluca. Was that difficult to capture on film?
Mimi’s wife [Mirela Oprisor, who plays Paul’s wife Adriana in the film] wasn’t at the shooting—that’s for sure! Maria’s husband is one of the film’s screenwriters, so he wasn’t at the shooting either. It wasn’t easy, as you can imagine. We filmed this scene at the beginning, otherwise the pressure would have been too much. I wanted to shoot everything chronologically, to control the characters’ emotions and their evolution. We rehearsed a lot. Otherwise, the actors would have thought about [doing] this scene when they were shooting something else.
Was it risky to have leads who are married in real life play a married couple?
It wasn’t planned to be like this. Initially, I didn’t plan to cast Mirela [Oprisor] as Adriana. She was the best actress for the part. For me, she had a way of controlling the emotion of the character. It didn’t matter too much that they were married. I was thinking at some point that some of their intimacy would come into the film, and that was good.
You worked with Mimi Branescu before…
Yes, on previous films. We knew each other, and I knew Mirela, because she’s his wife. She almost played in Boogie [released in the U.S. under the title Summer Holiday], my previous film.
Why do you think Branescu’s character Paul is sympathetic?
It’s the human condition for me. That unrest that is inside you that somehow makes you go forward in life, but doesn’t allow you to be happy. If you really want something in life, when you succeed to have it, as in Paul’s situation, you immediately want something else. This kind of unrest is the center of the film.
So what is the appeal of this story for you?
I think it’s an age thing. Intimacy started to interest me a lot. I find what’s happening with people—intimacy, couples—more interesting than an action movie. The starting point of the film was this man in love with two women. For me, the main character hasn’t finished his relationship with his wife. There’s still something there. That’s what makes it painful and difficult, putting him in a situation where there is no good choice [between Adriana and Raluca]; either way it’s painful.
Are you married?
You portray the rhythm of married life well, and juxtapose it shrewdly with the affair. Was that narrative structure deliberate?
Not in the way you are saying, but these were 10 days in Paul’s life just before Christmas. I wanted to show that somehow both women had a part of his life. It’s like him being married twice at the same time. I wanted to see him in both situations.
You also take a static-camera approach to the storytelling, using very long shots, and almost no camera movement. Can you discuss that?
It was important for me to be as invisible as I could. I don’t want the viewer to focus on what I was doing, but on the film. I wanted to give the impression that Paul was constructing his own story; that’s the most direct way of telling a personal story so it becomes personal for the audience. That’s my goal. I want the film to insinuate in the viewer’s mind, somehow, by itself. Of course, I’m manipulating things, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’m manipulating things. That’s the reason why the camera is not a character. It’s not following the characters; it’s not acting like it has a personality. It’s a bit voyeuristic, probably, but that’s the way I’ve planned it.
How did you collaborate on the film with your co-writers?
It’s my third film with them. We are good friends, and we have almost the same taste in cinema. We worked for several months on the synopsis. I came with the idea, and we started developing the characters and their motivations. Then we split into three and each writes his part of the story. We discuss among ourselves, make adjustments, and put it all together until we have a first draft. We made some more adjustments after the rehearsal, and seeing how the words were in the actors’ mouths. It seems simple, but it’s not always easy to synchronize, especially when you are talking about such a personal story. Each of us has a different life experience, and we relate differently to narrative situations in the script.
The film feels so natural, I’m wondering if the actors improvised anything?
Absolutely not! We rehearsed a lot. Through the whole film there was no improvisation. We added 20 words after the rehearsals.