Take five: Radu Muntean

The Tuesday, After Christmas director weighs in on his marital drama.

<p>END OF THE AFFAIR Muntean explores an unraveling union.</p>

END OF THE AFFAIR Muntean explores an unraveling union.

Romanian cinema has produced a staggering number of politically charged movies dealing with the aftermath of the country's decades-long dictatorship. But with Tuesday, After Christmas (starting a long-awaited run at Film Forum this week), director Radu Muntean shifts the focus to a much more personal revolution—namely, a husband having to choose between his wife and his mistress. The filmmaker spoke with TONY when he was in town last fall for the film's American premiere at the New York Film Festival.

What prompted the idea of looking at this particular love triangle?
Initially, it was just an idea about a man in love with two women. When Mimi Branescu's character, Paul, looks at his life, it seems perfect from the outside: a beautiful wife, a lovely daughter. But he's not satisfied, and then another woman enters into his orbit. And she makes him happy, but he doesn't want to end his marriage. That was the starting point: A man has to make a choice. Both of his options are the wrong ones. Either way, he loses.

Yet you don't portray any of these characters as villains; they're people caught in a horrible situation...
...just like in life. It was important to start the film with Paul and his mistress, Raluca, as opposed to Paul and his spouse, because you have to understand from the very beginning that this man and this "other woman" are actually a good couple together. I didn't want to portray Paul as a womanizer and Raluca as a home wrecker. That would be too easy, and it sways the audience from the beginning. I didn't want the wife to be frumpy or plain; I wanted her to be sexy, which [actor] Mirela Oprisor is. When he finally tells his wife what's going on, I wanted him to be sorry for what he's losing. That was the tricky part, maintaining an equilibrium in which no one is a villain—or a hero, for that matter.

How did you work with actors in terms of the long confessional scene?
We rehearsed a lot, going over each word and gesture; we don't improvise, but we do build the scene up bit by bit. For that scene, it was obviously the hardest thing we had to shoot. It's 11 minutes, one shot, and it's all on the actors. Especially with Mirela; if she misses a beat during that sequence, then it sort of falls apart. Thankfully, she's the most amazing actor and knew exactly what to do in a way that didn't make you feel like you were watching a classic melodrama. That wasn't what we were trying to do.

You're married with children; what did your wife think of the film?
Obviously it's not autobiographical, though making the movie did function as a sort of role-playing therapy: So what would happen if I ever found myself in this situation? It was undoubtedly weirder for Mimi and Mirela; they're married in real life, acting out this psychodrama in front of the cameras! But my wife loved it. [Pause] I mean, she hasn't divorced me yet, so... [Laughs]