Any serious piece of storytelling involving adult relationships strives to walk the line between believable and exceptional, with most films erring so far on the side of exceptional as to render them unbelievable. But "Tuesday, After Christmas," a Romanian drama that showed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2010, suffers from the opposite problem.
Paul (Mimi Branescu) is roughly 40, a moderately successful businessman who deals in real estate, with a wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor-Branescu’s off-screen wife), and daughter, Mara, both of whom he loves very much. But he also has a girlfriend, Raluca (Maria Popistasu), who is a decade younger, blonde and Mara’s dentist.
With Christmas approaching, a last minute change in Adriana’s schedule allows her to join Paul at Mara’s dentist appointment. Paul can only look only helplessly while Raluca gives Adriana an insanely in-depth explanation of the state of her daughter’s teeth and the need for braces. It’s a bizarre meeting, with Adriana so fixated on the health of her daughter’s teeth that she’s oblivious to the tension in the room. Paul soon realizes that one of his relationships has to end.
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Raluca, of course, knows everything, and is remarkably sanguine about her role as the other woman. It’s not her ideal, there is a level of resentment to be sure, but she’s made peace with it. With no exterior pressure to end either relationship bearing down on him, Paul is forced to struggle with the issue alone.
Branescu and Oprisor are as good together as you would expect real-life spouses to be, there’s an organic rhythm to their conversation and their body language that you only find in two people who know each other intimately. The chemistry between Branescu and Popistasu works, as well--his pursuit of her isn’t a midlife crisis, but an honest romance.
"Tuesday, After Christmas," is all building tension, with no release. When Paul makes his decision known, he does so with an uncommon levelheadedness, and the message is received with a level of calm that seems, while mature and admirable, almost unworthy of our attention.