Marriage stands as one of the most beautiful, and most ancient of all human institutions—unchanged in recorded human history. As such, it has presented one of the most tantalizing themes for filmmakers, many of whom have attempted to look at the institution in its most tragic incarnation, portraying the breakdown of a marriage. Most of these films do so with a heavy dose of tearful argument, attempts to patch it back up, cold silences, and the eventual climactic split. These types of marriage-themed films falter by tipping the scale too far on the pain and anguish side of things, leaving viewers emotionally drained and, worse, pushed into an emotional reaction through overly manipulative scenarios and overwritten scripts.
Radu Muntean’s achingly restrained film, Tuesday, After Christmas, avoids these pitfalls. In so doing, it illustrates the beauty of marriage by inviting the audience to feel real loss when a marriage fails. Using lengthy shots filled with subtext, the film builds tension as the philandering husband nears, and eventually makes, his fateful decision. The early scenes alternate between pleasant, even mundane moments involving Paul and the two women he loves: his wife of ten years, Adriana, and his girlfriend of a few months, Raluca. And yet, as the film progresses, moments of tension begin to invade those scenes, usually through a spare line of dialogue or some tension left unstated.
The climactic scenes are an 11+ minute shot chronicling the aftermath of Paul’s choice, along with a wonderfully complex, expertly-acted, and heartbreaking final sequence. Muntean’s observant camera offers a quality most “marriage breakdown” films miss: a keen sense of the non-verbal connection between the married couple. As this couple moves and lives in unison—the lighting of a cigarette, the predictive understanding of one another’s movements—the film shows us through the non-verbal actions of the actors a harmonious union being infiltrated with cacophonous notes. And this is the real tragedy of the failed marriage: one less opportunity for unity and harmony among people in a desperate search for it.