Cristi Puiu

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

7.2 Stuff and Dough (2001)
7.0 Cigarettes and Coffee (2004)
7.4 The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005)
7.0 Aurora (2010)
7.1 Malmkrog (2020)
7.2 Sieranevada (2016)
7.1 Malmkrog (2020)

Cristi Puiu (Romania, 1967) debuted with a low-budget film, Marfa si Banii/ Stuff and Dough (2001), considered the first film of the Romanian new wave of the 21st century.

Un Cartu de Kent i un Pachet de Cafea/ Cigarettes and Coffee (2004)

Moartea Domnului Lazarescu/ The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), which takes place over the course of one evening and is based on the true story of a man turned down at several Bucharest hospitals and eventually left in the street to die, is certainly an indictment of health care in Romania, but there is a broader, bigger message behind the humiliating odyssey of the protagonist. It is also an austere poem of the ordinary. The film is filmed in a documentary style (with shoulder-held camera), and at the beginning it looks like it is simply portraying the most ordinary of lives. It is only gradually that we understand what is going to happen. The allegory reveals itself slowly, through the progressive descent of the protagonist, named Dante, into the hell of a cold, bureaucratic hell, just like Dante's progressive descent into the hell of the Divine Comedy. Of course this is also a parable about the loss of human values in a less and less humane society: only the paramedic shows any compassion for the old drunkard, and even hers is quite feeble. For everybody else this modern Dante is simply a bureaucratic problem. Therefore she becomes the real heroine of the film, the last human being when the robots have taken over the world. Or she might be simply reflecting that soon she will be in the same conditions: she too is alone and she too is beginning to have health problems, which means that some day she'll have to start on her own Dantesque descent into the same hell.

Dante is a 63-year old widower who lives alone with his cats in a tiny apartment. He calls the hospital because he keeps throwing up and has a permanent headache. While he's waiting for the doctor, Dante calls his sister Eva. He is angry that she is spreading the rumour that his health is poor because he drinks too much. He also talks to Eva's husband Virgil and swears he's sending the money that he owes them. Dante walks downstairs to ask neighbors for a painkiller. They all think that his troubles come from alcohol. The neighbors help him return to his apartment and witness how he coughs up blood. The neighbors comment that it always takes forever for an ambulance to arrive. Another neighbor comes to visit, a young man who is always happy. The neighbors gossip that he has a daughter in Canada who has completely forgotten about her father.
It takes 38 minutes for the ambulance to come, which is also the first 38 minutes of the film. The woman in charge of the ambulance is a red-haired middle-age woman, not much younger than Dante. She asks Dante a few questions, and writes down that he had surgery 14 years earlier. She is cold but professional.
The film (still in real time) shows the paramedic, Mioara, smoking a cigarette and discussing Dante's life with the neighbor, Miki. Mioara suspects that Dante might have cancer. Dante asks Miki to call his sister Eva, and Eva promises to come and visit him at the hospital. The first intimation of the trouble ahead comes when Mioara tells the neighbors that it would be easier for Dante to be admitted to a hospital if he is accompanied. Miki and her husband Sandu don't feel like they owe their neighbor that much on a saturday night. Everybody helps Dante walk down the stairs to the ambulance. Dante is ashamed of lying on a stretcher and only sits on it. He complains with the driver, who asks him to stand back because his breath is terrible. Still in denial of his condition, he asks for a cigarette. At the hospital he is visited by a rude and overworked doctor, who thinks the problem is simply alcohol. The doctor lectures and insults him because, from his point of view, Dante is abusing the health-care system: doctors operate on him and he wrecks his body by drinking too much. When seriously injured victims of a traffic accident are taken in, the doctor has a good excuse to kick Dante out. He tells Mioara to take Dante to another hospital.
Dante is obviously getting sicker: he can't even stand up anymore. At the other hospital the situation is the same: the staff is busy with the victims of the traffic accident and only reluctantly allows the ambulance to unload Dante. Mioara is the only one who feels a bit of compassion for the old man and some degree of responsibility towards him. While they wait in the hallway, they see blood and they hear relatives weep. The female doctor who eventually visits an ever weaker Dante, who keeps complaining about a headache, realizes the gravity of his condition and calls a neurologist, who diagnoses a blood cot in the brain and requests a computed-tomography scan. Dante can't even speak normally anymore. And now even Mioara needs medicines: she too has her own health problems. We also learn a bit about Mioara when she meets a friend who is a nurse in that hospital. Mioara has a son who lives with a woman and had a son from her but they are not married, and Mioara cannot visit their daughter as often as she'd like because she doesn't get along with the mother. Meanwhile, Dante is fading away: he is always on a stretcher and hardly responds to what the doctors tell him. While they prepare him for the tomography, he wets himself. Mioara pulls his pants off and helps him to his pajama. The tomography proves that Dante has cancer and needs urgent neurosurgery. The doctor who reads the results of the tomography is skeptic that Dante has long to live anyway. Their surgery rooms are all full so they tell the good Mioara to take Dante to yet another hospital.
In this third hospital Mioara loses her patience. First a female doctor wants to reexamine Dante even though the tomography is clear. Then this doctor and a male doctor waste precious time discussing cellular phones. Then Mioara gets into an argument with the male doctor too, who snaps when told that Dante needs urgent surgery. In the middle of the night everybody is tired and on the edge. Finally the doctors ask Dante to sign the disclaimer for them to perform the dangerous operation. Dante, delirious, does not understand and refuses. The male doctor tells Mioara that he will not operate without a disclaimer unless the patient is comatose, in which case the disclaimer is not necessary. Therefore he suggests that Mioara drives Dante around for one hour until he becomes comatose and then bring him back. The alternative it to take him to another hospital where maybe the doctor will not require a disclaimer.
Mioara takes him to a fourth hospital. By the time they get there, the disclaimer is not necessary anymore because Dante has lost consciousness. At last, Mioara can go home. Other nurses take care of Dante: they wash him, shave his head, put a blanket on him. Dante hardly moves his head.

Most of what happens in the sprawling Aurora (2010) is silent and totally irrelevant. The protagonist is a taciturn insignificant man whose mummy-like face is the quintessential metaphor of boredom. As the film slowly progresses, we realize that his quiet hides a cryptic tangle of suppressed psychological frustrations. His motionless face is a lid on an inner maelstrom of tormented feelings. Whatever goes on in his psyche rarely surfaces as a facial expression. While it looks like he is not even thinking (besides not doing much), it turns out that his static silent life is a long premeditated crime, blending the mundane and the extraordinary in a permanent state of indifference.

Viorel is a factory worker in an industrial town with a girlfriend, Gina, who has a little daughter. Initially it looks like this is almost a documentary: ordinary people living ordinary lives in ordinary places. However, Viorel has just been fired from his job at the factory. He visits the office one last time to collect his belongings and asks a coworker some money that the other one has been slow in returning. Then he calls on another coworker, who has handcrafted parts of a gun for him and wants no money in return. Viorel never says a word more than what is necessary to interact with the others. His behavior is odd to say the least: he hides behind trucks in a parking lot to spy on a woman and her child, he stops and stares at a girl in a supermarket, we see in the rear mirror of his car that he is holding his head with his hands, etc. When he returns his apartment, where he lives alone, he patiently assembles a gun. He dials a number to phone somebody and then he mysteriously whistles twice in the phone.
Naked in the shower he repeatedly touches his genitals. During the shower he realizes that a leak from the flat upstairs has caused damage to his ceiling. He walks upstairs and talks to the woman who is home. the cause is her child, who was playing in the bathroom and forgot the water running.
He's still dressing when his mother comes to visit with her new man. Viorel's apartment is a mess: he says that he is redecorating but he has not even started. When they leave, he buys a fun from a gun store. Then he takes a cake from a cafe. At home the construction workers have finally started the renovation. The upstairs neighbors come to apologize for the stain in the bathroom. The phone rings and he doesn't pick it up. When everybody has left, he practices aiming the gun in the dark, as if shooting someone who is asleep in the bed. He drives to another building, hides in the underground parking garage and then shoots a couple that is getting into their car. He drives back to his girlfriend's apartment. The father of the child is there. The father and the child are getting ready to take a train. Gina cannot talk to him and tells him to come back later. He packs his belongings in three suitcases and drives to his mother's place, an apartment furnished in an older elegant style. He calls her Pusa, not mother. He gives the first speech of the film when he is alone with her new man: Viorel tells him that he doesn't like him and warns the man to stay away from his room. Viorel's father is dead and Viorel insinuates that this new boyfriend may be after the house. The man is left speechless by Viorel's hostility.
Viorel drives back to his lousy apartment, stopping at the train station for a few minutes. The next destination is the plant. Now it is late enough that nobody is around. He stares at it from a distance. Apparently he spends the night there because he is still there when the sun rises. He hides behind the trucks when someone walks by. He stays there until a family shows up. He spies them briefly still hiding behind a truck. Then he runs back to his car and drives to yet another place. This time it's his ex-wife's place. The girls (his girls) are gone, but he has come to pay the three months he owes her. He stares while she is preparing the meal. She is now married to another man, Dan, and callously tells him that the girls don't miss their father. He follows her upstairs with a knife and kills her: we don't see the act and we don't hear any sound. He quietly walks back to the car to pick up the gun. He aims it at her repeatedly and finally shoots. It makes no sense, as she is already dead. Then he turns on the television set and waits, sitting on the couch. When his wife's husband enters the house, Viorel shoots him too.
Now it is morning and he heads to a clothing store where his friend Andreea used to work. The store is still closed but he insists that he needs to talk to this friend of his. When the ladies open the door to tell him that she quit a few weeks earlier, he makes a scene, accusing them of lying and of hiding her. Next, he heads to the school looking for one of his girls, the elder one. He rudely interrupts a rehearsal that is going on and takes his daughter away. They cannot get into Pusa's apartment because she's not home and she locked the door. Viorel asks a neighbor to take care of the girl and she reluctantly accept. Viorel and the girl walk in while the members of the family (three adult men, a teenage boy and a teenage girl) walk around the apartment, indifferent to them (a long scene whose purpose seems to be just to test the director's skills).
Viorel walks to a little park and eats something. Then he calmly walks into a police station and makes a full confession. The victims were all connected to his wife (the couple were her parents-in-law). He sounds likes a rambling idiot and the police officers simply listen and write down what he is saying showing little or no surprise.

Three Interpretation Exercises (2013) is not quite a film: a group of actors gather to try scenes adapted from Vladimir Solovyov's "Three Conversations".

Das Spektrum Europas (2014) is a powerful short film.

Sieranevada (2016) packs an entire extended family (at the peak about 16 people) in a tiny apartment. We learn why and what only a little bit at the time, pretty much only at the very end. It is a serious occasion to pay tribute to the dead patriarch of the family, but it becomes a tragicomic occasion in which the family has to reenact its many sins. As one incident leads to another, the dinner gets postponed over and over again. And the film, after so much tragedy, ends in laughter.

The camera shows us from the other side of the street a woman with a little girl meeting an older woman and a man driving around. It takes several minutes to figure out that Lary and Laura are married and they left the daughter to the woman's mother. Now they are on their way to a gathering and they are running late. They are a wealthy middle-class couple. He is calm and mostly silent, she gets excited about everything and complains about a "Snow White" dress that is not appropriate for her daughter's school dance performance. Finally they arrive at their destination: the apartment of Lary's mother Nusa. The apartment is already full of family members and they are told that they missed the mass. The moment he arrives, a young woman, cousin Simona, tells Lary that a 79-year-old person has Alzheimer and asks for his advice, so we learn that Lary is a brain scientist of some kind. Lary sits at a table and listens to casual conversation. We learn that terrorists have just attacked Paris (the "Charlie Hebdo" attacks). Lary's cousin Sebi believes in all kinds of conspiracy theories, especially about the 2001 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in the USA, which he believes were engineered by the USA. Lary bought an electrical exercise bicycle for his mother Nusa, but she reproaches Lary for wasting the money. In any case Lary cannot demonstrate the gift because it comes from England and needs the electrical adapter for the English plug. Lary lies on the bed. His aunt Ofelia (Nusa's sister, Sebi's mother) is sitting on the other side of the bed, crying after an argument with her husband Toni. Lary's sister Sandra is cooking while her husband Gabi is listening to and debunking Sebi's conspiracy theories, which also annoy Lary. Everybody is waiting for the priest. Laura leaves to go to the supermarket. Lary walks in the kitchen while the women are discussing communism. Their great-aunt Evelina is nostalgic about the old days of communism. Sandra gets angry and emotional because their father spent seven years in prison. Evelina wants to close all the churches and throws all priests in jail. Sandra cries to hear Evelina's apology of dictatorship. Sebi's younger sister Camelia/ Cami arrives, taking with her a Croatian girl who is intoxicated. The girl immediately vomits in the bathroom and then falls asleep. This causes a loud argument between Cami and her mother Ofelia. Sandra is worried that they will wake up Irina. We learn that Lary just flew back from a conference in Geneva, so he's a scientist. The priest finally arrives and apologizes for being late. Cousin Sebi tells Lary that his father had a violent altercation with a neighbor's husband the day before and a complaint has been filed with the police. The priest blesses the house, they prays for the soul of Nusa's husband Emil, so we learn that the gathering is about commemorating the dead man and patriarch of the family. Lary's younger brother Relu arrives and apologizes for being late. Lary mocks Sebi's conspiracy theories in front of Relu. Relu is a soldier and is scared of the wars started by the USA. Now the family is almost complete: Nusa's children Lary (married to Laura, who went out shopping), Sandra (married to Gabi, who is a doctor) and Relu (single); and her sister Ofelia's children Simona, Sebi and Cami (Lary's cousins). Sandra, alone with Gabi, is still pissed at Evelina because of all the people killed by communists and smokes nervously a cigarette. Sebi tries a suit that has been prepared for him, but it is too large. Nusa scolds Sandra that she is disappointed that Simona bought the wrong size. Simona defends herself that she bought a suit fitting the deceased, not knowing that it would be Sebi wearing it. Simona tries to fix the suit. The food is almost ready and everybody would like to start eating, but Nusa insists that dinner won't start until Sebi wears the suit. Just when they are all sitting at the table and ready to start eating, Camelia receives a phone call and then whispers something to Lary. They walk out to open the door to somebody. Lary tries to keep the guest from entering the apartment but Sandra shows him in: it's Ofelia's husband Toni, Nusa's brother-in-law, Lary's uncle. Toni immediately gets into an argument with Nusa, his wife Ofelia, his son Sebi and his daughter Cami, all accusing him of being a monster. Sebi leaves disgusted. Ofelia is in tears again. Everybody stares down on Toni. Nusa accuse him of cheating on Ofelia but he says that Ofelia imagines it. Toni however is quickly faced with overwhelming evidence that he has been cheating on Ofelia for years. The neighbor (whose husband Filip attacked Toni and filed the police complaint) confessed to Ofelia that she performed oral sex on Toni. Ofelia tells Nusa that all her life Toni complained that she refused to perform oral sex on him. Ofelia reminds him of all the other adulteries in front of everybody. Lary is called on the phone and walks out. He runs to his car and finds that his lively wife got into a big row with a neighbor about parking. They parked in a spot reserved to someone else, that someone else parked behind them blocking their car, and another local starts insulting her, calling her a whore and trying to attack her. Lary tries to stop him and gets into a violent confrontation with this stranger. The man who blocked them comes out and drives out, but threatens to shoot them if he still finds their car when he returns. Finally the commotion ends. Lary and Laura are alone in the car. Suddenly, Lary starts crying in front of Laura, remembering a silly episode involving ten-year-old Relu. Laura is actually amused by the stories of their chidlhood, but then Lary reveals that his father Emil lied to his mother Nusa all his life, and that he had affairs with many nurses at the hospital and even took his mistress Margareta on vacation with the family. Not only this happened under Nusa's nose, but Lary is convinced that she knew. Ofelia was working with Emil at the military hospital and she covered up for Emil. So there is another side to the story of Toni cheating on Ofelia: Emil cheated on Nusa, Nusa tolerated it, and Ofelia even helped Emil hide it. There's the implication that now Ofelia attracted bad karma on herself. Finally they move the car and return to Nusa's apartment. They find Sebi sitting on the stairs, refusing to walk back in as long as his father is there. Sandra briefs Laura on Toni's scandal. Nusa tells Lary that Toni is not completely wrong (and we relate this to the story that she tolerated her own husband's affairs). Gabi tells Lary that Ofelia had a stroke and that he gave her a sleeping pill and told Toni that she had a stroke, all of this to punish Toni and to get him out of the house. Gabi asks Lary (a brain scientist) to confirm his diagnosis of the stroke to Toni. Lary tells Toni to go home but Toni now is devastated and begs to be allowed to be at Ofelia's side until she wakes up: he even gets on his knees in front of Lari and Relu. Lary walks to the dining room silently and Sandra, who is setting the table, reproaches him for not kicking out Toni. Simona walks out to convince Sebi to come back and to wear the "costume" that she has fixed for him. Laura, Gabi and Relu sit at the dining table and discuss US policies in Iraq. Lary sits silently next to them. Nusa asks for silence and introduces Sebi, all dressed up, impersonating the dead Emil, who asks for forgiveness and sits with them. Sandra finally begins to serve the dinner, but the drug addict (Cami's friend) vomits again in another room and Gabi the doctor has to tend to her, followed by almost everybody else. Lary and Relu, alone at the table, start laughing about the situation. Sebi returns at the table and starts laughing too.

The three-hour Malmkrog (2020)

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )