Radu Muntean, Tuesday, After Christmas, 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 99 minutes. Paul Hanganu and Raluca (Mimi Brănescu and Maria Popistașu).

RADU MUNTEAN’S Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) is one of the least showy and most finely crafted movies of the Romanian New Wave. Hardly a date movie, it depicts a situation that, given divorce rates, an overwhelming percentage of adult viewers have experienced or will in the future. A married man with a nine-year-old daughter is having an affair with a woman a few years younger than his wife. He didn’t expect the affair to become serious, but it has and he must deal with the fact that he has fallen in love with his girlfriend and does not enjoy living a double life.

Neither melodramatic nor erotic, the film has an odd kind of urgency. It’s as if one is watching a rehearsal or a rerun of one’s own life, but at a remove and drained of the passion that makes one feel, at the moment in which one is deep in the psychodrama of desire and/or betrayal, that nothing like this has ever happened to anyone else. That the behavior of the characters is so mundane and predictable—and utterly true—is in fact what makes the film unique.

Tuesday, After Christmas opens in medias res. Paul (Mimi Brănescu) and Raluca (Maria Popistaşu) are stretched out naked in bed, having, one presumes, just enjoyed an afternoon fuck. Paul is stocky and dark-haired, Raluca is lithe and blonde, and they have a casual intimacy that suggests they’ve been together for a while. It is the Christmas season and they are going to spend it apart, which makes them unhappy. In the next scene, Paul goes Christmas shopping with his wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprişor), an attractive brunette with a lively intelligent face, who clearly hasn’t a clue that her husband is unfaithful, let alone that his lover is their daughter’s orthodontist. Later, in the scene that is the turning point of the movie, the three meet in Raluca’s office; Adriana has at the last minute decided she must look at her daughter’s braces before they are attached. The image of the two women peering into the girl’s mouth while Paul hovers nervously in the doorway might have been, in the hands of a less subtle director, hilarious. Instead, Muntean places us in the uncomfortable position of being aligned with the lovers in their deception of the wife. We know something that she doesn’t. This excellent use of dramatic irony propels the narrative toward the inevitable. Paul, who is not a bad guy (though he has the typical male habit of explaining to the women in his life what they are feeling), comes clean to his wife, who responds with an outpouring of shape-shifting emotions that are like nothing else in the movie.

Shot in scope and composed of long takes with minimal camera movement or editing within sequences, the film gives the actors the responsibility of pacing and shaping each scene, of conveying subtext through silence as well as dialogue. Brilliant acting is what distinguishes most Romanian New Wave movies, and here the interactions of Brănescu, Oprişor, and Popistaşu are exceptional. To risk the kind of metaphor that the movie eschews, Tuesday, After Christmas is much more than a slice of life. It’s an old-fashioned club sandwich in which the three structuring layers of bread are filled with savory and sweet ingredients, juxtaposed to satisfy a contemporary taste.

Amy Taubin

Tuesday, After Christmas runs Wednesday, May 25–Tuesday, June 7 at Film Forum in New York.