' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: Domestic

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

CIFF Review: Domestic

So much of the so-called Romanian New Wave has been built around exceedingly long takes filmed with stationary cameras, setting up a precise, sometimes picturesque, frame and then blocking actors within that space. It is meant to invoke a sense of realism, and often it does, but, at the same time, in this cinematic world of quick cuts galore, it can come across surreal. Indeed, Director Adrian Sitaru’s “Domestic”, amidst those long takes and real-looking people, presents a distinct tone of the surrealist.

Set almost entirely inside an apartment building in Bucharest, “Domestic” chronicles, in its unique way, a pair of families and a partially noble dognapper with a recurring dream he struggles to make sense of. Him being a dognapper is not merely meant as comedic fodder as animals factor into the story as prominently as humans.


Mr. Lazar (Adrian Titieni), the building administrator, is shocked to see his wife (Clara Voda) return home with a live hen intended for dinner. But this means someone has to snuff out the hen. So the Lazars argue as their daughter, Mara (Ariadna Titieni), weighs ethics against monetary compensation for doing the dirty deed. The sequence – which has to be ten minutes at least – is a single take demonstration of how the film’s laughs arrive directly from a natural escalation of their built-in absurdity.

A few doors down a cabbie (Gheorghe Ifrim) brings a rabbit home to his son for a makeshift pet. Ultimately the rabbit winds up in a stew and that leaves the son despondent which leads to the son bringing home a pigeon intent on it being a makeshift pet. In other words, pets are not merely the props, they are very much the point.

Please indulge your humble “reviewer” in a personal anecdote, but it bears relevance. When my sister went away to college her roommates had a cat for whom none of them were interested in caring. So my sister took it upon herself to care for the cat, and inevitably she became attached. But when my sister finished college and begin criss-crossing the U.S. on a multitude of adventures, it fell upon our father to care for the cat, and inevitably he became attached. This is the theme “Domestic” gently unspools, building to an antepenultimate scene that effortlessly shows how two characters have become attached to a cat for whom neither of them ever much cared.

Well, build might be a strong word. “Domestic” is far more aligned to vignettes than standard arc, and so ginormous developments – such as a certain character’s death – are dropped in during otherwise casual conversation, and other conversations only exist for the sake of themselves. Not that I’m complaining. A Christmas dinner monologue revolving around God, for instance, evoked Garrison Keillor, if Garrison Keillor left Lake Wobegon and re-settled near the Carpathian Mountains. Many individual moments are enjoyable, intriguing ideas are raised, but the film feels incomplete.

But perhaps that is a virtue. We are conditioned to expect that the oft-debated dream will be returned to at the conclusion, and its meaning will be readily apparent, and all will fall into place. And sure enough, like clockwork, the dream re-appears at the conclusion but......not so fast! It really doesn't answer any of our questions. Thus, a sequence over the closing credits shows our characters CONTINUING to debate the dream.

Even when the movie ends, its characters’ trundle on.

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