Family: either you love or you hate them. There are many things to consider when you think of family: rivalries, treason, political and religious differences, background, birth order, manipulation, envy and much more. But when the world outside is a threat, everyone wants to come back into the womb. Lary, a doctor in his forties, travels to a family gathering in Romania commemorating the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, just three days after the tragedy. But the occasion is not as simple as one can imagine.
The most disturbing aspect of the movie is the camerawork. Once Lary arrives at his mother’s house with his wife, all sorts of characters suddenly come together. The camera never follows the same character for more than roughly one minute. It is very uncomfortable for the audience to be in a house where you cannot figure out the size of the kitchen or other rooms. The complex camerawork frequently changes the point of view, and follows family members as they enter rooms and close doors. As a result, audience is unable to identify with one single character. You just don’t know who to believe.
Once you get used to the rhythm – the film is 172 minutes long, and it is almost entirely shot in a flat -, there are other aspects to consider. Family members discuss politics – the heritage of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime, the World Trade Center attack, the more recent tragedies in Europe. There never seems to be a consensus, arguments are mostly flawed, and their knowledge often scarse. The path to the truth is craggy and rough.
The film is packed with awkward moments. There is a drunk Serbian friend, who needs to be hidden and locked in a room. There is also a visiting priest, and no one can eat before he says his rites. People struggle to engage in the ritual, and anxiety and hunger are rife. These are situations people have to put up with for the sake of the family harmony.
Cristi Puiu (The Bridges of Sarajevo, 2014) creates a film that is both claustrophobic and hypnotic. Visiting your family can culminate in an explosion of emotions. Still, in a way, we all have the duty to do it. The prodigal son must return home.
Sieranevada is part of the BFI London Film Festival. Previously the feature competed for the Palme d’Or at the last Cannes Film Festival and was part of the Pearl Section at San Sebastian International Film Festival
Don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: