Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean made a fairly significant splash in the art house world last year with Tuesday, After Christmas, an observant, naturalistic tale of a man torn between his wife and his mistress. Now out on DVD from KimStim and Zeitgeist Films is Muntean’s previous film, Summer Holiday, a no less accomplished work that equally showcases his deft directorial hand.
In many ways, Summer Holiday features a similar lead character to Tuesday, After Christmas, perhaps rewound a few years to younger days. Dragos Bucur stars as Bogdan Ciocazanu or Boogie, a successful salesman on seaside holiday with his pregnant wife, Smaranda (Anamaria Marinca), and his three-year-old son, Adrian (Vlad Muntean). An unformed sense of discontent underpins the entire vacation, and it’s not clear whether it’s simply the disappointingly decrepit vacation town to blame or something more fundamental to their relationship.
When Boogie runs into a couple of old high school friends, Iordache (Adrian Vancica) and Penescu (Tuesday’s lead Mimi Branescu), he jumps at the chance to stay out all night with them, leaving aside his frustrated wife for an attempt at some kind of recaptured moment of youth. Summer Holiday plays out over that one night as the three reminisce, get drunk and flirt with various women.
Muntean’s patient approach yields enormous dividends — his exceptionally long, unfussy takes carve out ample room for his superb actors to establish their characters as nuanced, richly layered humans. The apparent simplicity of both Tuesday, After Christmas and Summer Holiday’s construction is deceptive — both films seem to feature him simply documenting slowly unwinding conversations, but there’s a precision to his cutting, infrequent as it may be. There’s a finely tuned eye for extracting the most out of any given scene here; it would be a mistake to assume Muntean just possesses a frustratingly languishing technique.
As Summer Holiday proceeds, Boogie is confronted with just how stable his relationship to his wife is, and there’s a blunt abruptness to how quickly potentially life-altering decisions present themselves. Muntean never oversells the moment; rarely are irreparable actions accompanied by fanfare, and the film’s emotional distancing from Boogie’s choices reflects that. Muntean’s camera hangs back, nonjudgmentally capturing moments that may be throwaways or may be crucial. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference.
As far as extras go, the KimStim/Zeitgeist DVD of Summer Holiday comes equipped only with the film’s American theatrical trailer — an object lesson is how not to sell an understated film like this one.