February 21, 2020
Cristi Puiu’s fourth film makes a virtue of high seriousness as guests at a country house discuss God, man, warfare and evil
Malmkrog review – cerebral period drama lives on in the mind
Cristi Puiu is the film-maker who spearheaded Romanian new wave 15 years ago with his brilliant The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and then five years later with his dauntingly opaque existential drama Aurora, and after that the strange Sieranevada – the intimate study of a family gathered to honour the death of a father. These realist dramas, considered together, were intelligibly the product of one film-maker in a recognisable – if difficult – style. Ten years ago, in fact, Puiu was talking about a projected “suite” of six such tales, and these appeared to be the first three.
His new feature, however, could not be more different. It is an almost impossibly stark, austere, cerebral and verbose film, running at three hours and 20 minutes, populated by the leisured classes of a distant age. Almost a sequence of theatrical tableaux, it is set in a grand country house in Transylvania at the end of the 19th century and inspired by – rather than conventionally adapted from – the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov’s 1915 text War and Christianity: Three Conversations. This is a film of formidable and almost intimidating seriousness, which is admirable and refreshing in its way, but it does not make many concessions to anything as vulgar as entertainment or even drama (as that might be vulgarly conceived).
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