“Only the good thought can save us, but it should be present when the other reveals himself or herself in words, in order for the encounter to take place,” says Cristi Puiu in his interview in The Chronicle*. It took me five days to finish [reading] Puiu’s interview, and it’s the best one I’ve ever read. Not just of his interviews, but of all interviews. It shakes you up deep, and I don’t know if there is any vital area left untouched.
The same thing happens with Sieranevada, the film I watched last night together with fourteen other people, thirteen strangers and my friend Roxana, who asked me around 2 p.m.: “Shall we go to the movies?” It was Tuesday the 13th, so it sounded rather good. The bare movie theater shocked me only until the movie started, because I immersed myself into it from the very first scene. Initially I thought the sound was too low, but it wasn’t, it was just what the atmosphere required. There they were, those moments we all go through and we all witness, the scenes we are not even aware of and pass by, we all pass by.
I don’t exactly know what happens in this film, I don’t know if there is anything that doesn’t happen. In it, there is everything, and nothing. Cristi Puiu and the actors, the entire team, the disconcerting style of photography, all this takes the viewer inside the movie. It doesn’t take the viewers to the movie set, although it would have been more comfortable that way, but rather draws them into being actors in the movie, to play. I found myself in all of the characters, even in the dead one, if not even more so in the dead character who was reconstituted and brilliantly adjusted with pins by Simona. Oh, who is Simona? Simona is a character who could just as well have been named Thepersonwhoknowsandcanmakeandbeeverythingthatneedstobemadeanddone, if she would have been born in a Native American tribe.
Sieranevada is the metaphor of an aberration lived as if it’s something natural. It’s me, wearing costume earrings with pearls and fake stones, matched to a shabby coat, talking emphatically about people’s lack of good taste, it’s you standing in the hall of an apartment with all the doors closed, where behind each of the doors people gossip about other people or nag each other, and you, who are not even a light bulb in the hall, you are just a tiny piece of darkness, hearing everything, feeling everything, and this everything drives you crazy, because no matter what you do and where you go, you can’t escape it, it’s in your DNA and it would mean tearing yourself up, this self that you hate, DNA included, but you cannot leave it behind while alive, it’s me when the person next to me suffers terribly, cries, struggles, confides in me, and I listen and don’t feel a thing, because I’ve raised so many walls between me and myself, between the world and me, between truth and lies, so I just don’t feel anything anymore, I just live my life in ideas and scheduling vacations in exotic places, where I’ll bring with me all this filth inside me, all my fractures, it’s you, the one who lies to yourself and others in order to survive a situation, a family, a choice that you made, after all, a choice you made to mutilate yourself, but you’re certain others mutilated you, it wasn’t you stewing in their juices that became yours, it’s me, blindfolded by myself, blindfolded by you, my hands and legs tied down, burying myself every day and repeating mechanical gestures, adapting to the aberration with fervor, with ardor, with a kamikaze pleasure, it’s you, you, and I would have loved you, but I’ve forgotten the way, I’ve probably never known it really, and now I’ve become so tired, I don’t have the strength or desire to (re)learn it, we are all in an apartment, one that doesn’t matter, on a floor that is not important, in a contemporary time which is concomitantly ours, it’s a perception and we don’t even feel the need to consciously own it, in a mixed society, in a crystalized pain, in an “impex” life, meaning import-export, come-and-go, nothing is left, it would be impossible to bear.
“The thing is, Sieranevada is a film that does not change you, a film that does not add to you. Sieranevada is a film that undresses you and takes you in front of the mirror.”
I admit, I was very tempted to believe that the priest and the deacon in the movie are not actors, that they are a priest and a deacon for real, and that was because I know the church songs for the occasion, and those people were perfect. I don’t know what went through my mind when I thought that Puiu could have chosen that. He did not, but I think he might do it anytime, since he is a seeker and a revealer of authenticity, no matter how embarrassing, how ridiculous, how superficial, how crazy. The priest and the deacon, and let’s not forget Simona, please let’s not forget her, not to mention the scene towards the end, the one with the library shelves choked full of books from the “Library for all”** collection, fronted by old and silent white and baby blue porcelain figurines, and ordinary porcelain pieces with a utilitarian role, we had a vase like that, I broke it when I played ball inside the house, all these are stings of pure and even simple reality. [It’s like with] grass blades, you know their taste and smell, you only lean down when you become desperate. Otherwise, you just step on them without a second thought.
The thing is, Sieranevada is a film that does not change you, a film that does not add to you. Sieranevada is a film that undresses you and takes you in front of the mirror. Front, profile, bend your knees, do the bridge from above, two or three push-ups, it shows you the scars, the new surgery with the drainage tubes still in, your beautiful hands, varicose veins, the hair still thick for your age, slim waist and then, incredible! it shows you the results of your blood test: haemoglobin this much, transaminase, creatinine, leukocytes, monocytes, good cholesterol (don’t be scared), bad cholesterol, urea, sedimentation rate, fibrinogen, the end tail of a memory, a smile bunch, an old hope, an undared one, a light to hold at the head of your bed, in order to see where you set your foot, but definitely not for your own passing away, because, isn’t that right? we can afford to loose ourselves in all the foolish things only because each of us is convinced that he or she is the only immortal on Earth.
Shatteringly good film, Cristi Puiu. I haven’t slept, but I had dreamed of it. I would like to be a vase in the next one.
*The Chronicle, Cristi Puiu: “More and more I become an advocate for happy-endings,” interview by G. Șerban (in Romanian).
**Affordable paperback book collection very popular during the communist times in Romania.
First published on Ana Barton’s Red Heart Served with Sweet Milk, September 14, 2016.
Translated into English and edited by Elena and Paul Richard.