The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - MALMKROG | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [VOD] - MALMKROG

malmkrog review
A group of guests debate a variety of issues while gathered at a 19th century manor house over Christmas.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Cristi Puiu

Starring: Frédéric Schulz-Richard, Ugo Broussot, Diana Sakalauskaité, Marina Palii

malmkrog poster

You! Yeah, you! Just shut it, will you? Sit back down, zip it and LISTEN for a change. When was the last time you actually did that? You know, paid close attention to what someone else had to say, and paused to consider what was being shared rather than making a snap response based on your own prejudices and ingrained principles? Ages ago, I bet. Listening is a lost art. Listening is dead, man. Performative as it was, professional blowhard Piers Morgan storming off his own TV show when called out r.e. his soundbitey remarks concerning the Duchess of Sussex is indicative of our imperious, partisan culture: where conversation, discussion, understanding is scorned in favour of who can shout the loudest, who has the hottest take, who has the microphone. What happened to conversation?

malmkrog review

Cristi Puiu’s (writer/director, based on the book by Vladimir Solovyov) sublime Malmkrog has to go way back to Transylvania circa 1890 to rediscover this lost art, in his 200+ minute (yes I know, but what else have you got on at the moment?) tribute to sinuous, phrenic interaction which depicts a gathering of a landowner, a politician, a countess, a General and his wife who get together in the eponymous manor house to have a good old chat over dinner. For three hours and change. Sit back, and listen!

The highbrow bunch talks about exactly what you would wish a group of fin-de-siècle intellectuals to discuss: religion, the state of the nation, life and death. The type of topics which modern discourse has ground into the most superficial takes is here given devoted, extended space; the audience simply eavesdrops, compelled to listen to the rising interactions and deepening debates while the hours melt into one another.

malmkrog review

It’s Puiu’s commitment which astonishes, the unflinching dedication to his theme: his challenge to the audience. Although, while the film’s raison d’etre is talk, there are visual pleasures to savour, too. The heritage delights of the set dressing and the pristine costumes are given prominence by Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s understated camera, typically pulled to wide angles to allow each participant equal status within whatever Big Idea is being chewed over with the hors d'oeuvres (for a portion of the film, our vision is obscured by the backs of chairs: a static signifier which consolidates this film’s imperative to listen).

French, with its polysyllabic, urgent rhythms has the perfect mellifluence for this type of debate, a language wherein the deadpan poetry of such lines as ‘Death is as neutral as bad weather’ (oui oui!) thrives. Within the malmkrog our chatty Cathys are safely ensconced from the bitter weather outside, and the various conflicts which came to define Romania in the coming decades. Puiu recognises the irony of his privileged characters pontificating upon the wars which they likely will never be physically involved in (or will they?), by assigning a portion of his epic to the servants who minister to the toffs with immaculate Upstairs, Downstairs observance.

malmkrog review

Ultimately, Puiu suggests, these toffs are all talk, indulging in a passive observance of events: as one character remonstrates, he would rather ‘sacrifice himself for two hours’ to listen. And the rest, mate! Midway through Malmkrog there is a shock burst of violence, implying ghost story relevance, and the insinuation that the characters are in fact within some sort of limbo (a hackneyed device, but we’ll allow it). Are these characters doomed to discuss for all eternity? Now, there’s a prospect.

Malmkrog is on UK/ROI VOD and in virtual cinemas from March 26th.

2021 movie reviews