A Long, Uncomfortable Goodbye: Our Review of ‘Sieranevada’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 14, 2017
A Long, Uncomfortable Goodbye: Our Review of ‘Sieranevada’

There is something immediately unsettling in Sieranevada, and it’s a discomfort that never disappears or even dissipates. Initially it arises from a sense of voyeurism, as director Cristi Puiu’s camera stands idle a bit of distance from our main characters. We’re not necessarily watching anything salacious, but clearly this family we’re eavesdropping is navigating a busy street corner with a sense of urgency, whatever their tasks at hand may be.

That static shot holds for a while, as do most shots in this lengthy, captivating Romanian family drama. Characters are agitated and concerned, the topics of conversation range from family illness to conspiracy theories, and all the while we are dropped in on these dialogues that are long, sometimes confrontational, and always emotional.

Sieranevada, a strange title indeed, finds a large Romanian family convene for a funeral, an event that unravels slowly but with purpose. We don’t necessarily need to know much about the deceased, Emil, as this meeting is about those still living to exorcise their own demons, finding their own meaning in live, and to a lesser extent, bothering those around them.

Nearly the entirety of this three-hour film is spent indoors, stuffy and claustrophobic regardless of how many characters are in the room – though usually it’s a few. Even that opening shot of a street corner is cluttered with cars and trucks and sounds. Never does Puiu, who is also the writer, let you get comfortably situated. We should be so lucky as Emil.

There are intimate family traditions taking place, and arrangements for Emil’s funeral aren’t always agreed on. That’s the personal level. Globally, the film’s events occur just days after the real life terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and terrorism, including 9/11, is a common topic of discussion.

Due to the tempered pace of the film, and that’s describing it generous, every scene comes rife with a palpable sense of realism, that we are spending intimate and dutiful time with this family. ANd like some of those in attendance for this funeral, we are there against our will. It’s illuminating, taxing, and again, mightily uncomfortable.

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