Critics have called this a cine-symposium, and rightly so as Puiu’s latest is an ultra-dense and ultra-slow exercise that sees five individuals debate over their stubborn—and at times arrogant—views on religion, morality and mortality in thought-provoking but dullish fashion.
Dir. Cristi Puiu
2020 | Romania/Serbia | Drama | 201 mins | 1.85:1 | French, Russian and other languages
PG13 (passed clean) for some violence
Cast: Agathe Bosch, Ugo Broussot, Frederic Schulz-Richard, Diana Sakalauskaite, Marina Palii
Plot: A landowner, a politician, a countess, a General and his wife gather in a spacious manor house and discuss death, war, progress and morality. As time passes by, the discussion becomes more serious and heated.
Awards: Won Best Director – Encounters (Berlinale)
International Sales: Shellac
Subject Matter: Intellectual – Politics, History, Identity, Morality, Mortality, Religion
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Very Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
One of contemporary Romanian cinema’s most established auteurs, Cristi Puiu’s follow-up to his extraordinary chamber drama, Sieranevada (2016), is a letdown in comparison. Titled Malmkrog (or ‘Manor House’), this three-hour-plus experiment will likely alienate even the most ardent arthouse fan.
It has all the makings of a snoozefest—it is ultra-dense and ultra-slow; in fact, some critics have called it a cine-symposium, and rightly so as Puiu conjures up an endurance test that will probably only fascinate cinephiles who are deeply interested in the academic matters of European history, religion, morality, mortality and identity politics.
Shot mostly in long takes, though Puiu does move the camera a fair bit instead of ascetically keeping to static shots or rely conventionally on shot-reverse shots, Malmkrog centres on five individuals who gather in a manor house on the eve of Christmas. As dawn turns to dusk, they debate over their stubborn—and at times arrogant—views.
“But we must really continue this discussion.”
I’ve to admit that some of the material came across as too esoteric for me, but there are parts of Puiu’s film that are genuinely thought-provoking. I’ve always been interested in religion and its ironies, and here these characters dissect, in this case, Christianity, to its core.
The discussion is never without context and always layered, but it is sometimes hard to follow any line of argument espoused by any one character after some time.
While I appreciate Puiu’s boldness in creating a cinema of this form, Malmkrog is ultimately too dullish to excite, even from an aesthetic point-of-view, despite the attention to period detail and lighting. Whether your mind is enriched or exhausted at the end of it depends very much on you. I just about made it through, albeit in four sittings.