Oscars 2017: ‘Sieranevada’ could reap Romania first Foreign-Language Film nomination

Cristi Puiu’s absorbing, intimate drama “Sieranevada” is Romania’s entry for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar after contending at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and being hailed by the Chicago International Film Festival. Most of its nearly three-hour running time takes place inside a cramped Romanian apartment as a large extended family gathers to ritually commemorate the passing of its patriarch.

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They prepare a meal that never seems to be eaten as they wait for a tardy priest, bicker about politics over cigarettes in the kitchen, argue over 9/11 conspiracy theories and try not to wake the baby sleeping in the next room and deal with interpersonal family dramas that overlap like waves hitting the beach. All the while, the camera remains at eye level and observes the proceedings as if we, too, are members of this fractious family. As the afternoon’s events unfold, virtually in real time, characters reveal themselves in small but emotionally significant ways.

Puiu is a leading light of the minimalist Romanian New Wave and a familiar name to fans of world cinema thanks to such titles as “Aurora” and “The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu,” which was Romania’s submission in 2005.

“Sieranevada” — a nonsensical title, the director claims — has split critics but even its detractors could be described as thoughtfully puzzled. The film “gives audiences plenty to sink their teeth into over the hours and days to come,” notes Peter Debruge (Variety), “rewarding audiences with the patience to unravel this tangled ball of yarn.”

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Elsewhere, Boyd van Hoeij (Hollywood Reporter) was more enthralled, calling it “a familiar but top-drawer family drama” and credits the “perfectly synced performances” of its sprawling cast that “takes the ‘Mr. Lăzărescu’ template and retools it to reveal something about who we all are and how we function as individuals within the groups that make up our identities.”

“The proceedings are claustrophobic, intense and alienated – often brilliant, sometimes slightly redundant,” says Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), describing “Sieranevada” as a “Romanian oddity.”

Romania has never been nominated for the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film despite submitting virtually every year since 1966. The country made the shortlist just once in 2012 for “Beyond the Hills” by Cristian Mungiu, four years after a contretemps when that filmmaker’s acclaimed drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” failed to make the final cut for the Oscar.

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