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Domestic | Review

Creature Discomfort: Sitaru Returns to Familial Unrest

Domestic Adrian Sitaru PosterFor his third feature film, Domestic, Romanian director Adrian Sitaru returns to the blackly comedic potential of familial discord that made his successful sophomore feature, Best Intentions, unspool like a jocular slice of Cristi Puiu. While that film had autobiographical roots for Sitaru in its examination of one family’s grappling with matriarchal medical issues, here we get a triptych of nuclear families, all living in the same apartment complex and all suffering various ramifications brought upon by the consequences of interacting with domesticated animals, some of whom have rather murky roles as either an item of entertainment or consumption. What results is a sometimes droll tragicomedy that veers between the maudlin and mundane.

Beginning with a group of apartment complex residents complaining to the building administrator, Mr. Lazar (Adrian Titieni, also appearing in this year’s Child’s Pose) about the annoyances caused by one someone’s insistence on keeping their dog locked outside of the apartment, we retreat into the Lazar household where wife Doamna (Clara Voda) has brought home a hen to butcher for dinner. Neither of them seem up to the task, but their teenage daughter Mara (Ariadna Titieni) gleefully swindles money out of her parents to cut the creature’s throat. We learn that Mara had been gifted a cat recently from Toni (Sergiu Costache), one of the other tenants, an animal she’s quite attached to.

Toni and Mihaes (Gheorghe Ifrom), a fellow resident and taxi driver, have now offered to ‘take care of’ the problematic canine in the building for Mara’s father. We then meet Mihaes’ family when he brings home a rabbit to be fattened up for a future meal, but his young son takes an immediate liking to the creature and false promises are made. Meanwhile, Toni’s resolution to dispose of the free roaming dog results in his taking it in as his own, and an unprecedented tragedy with the Lazar family motivates him to share a weird, recurring dream he keeps experiencing about a funeral attended by a woman he is able to name but no one seems to know.

Certainly, Domestic is the most stylistically assured of Sitaru’s filmography, abandoning the p.o.v. shots that ran rampant in Hooked and felt out of place in the otherwise assured Best Intentions. For each family (comprised of many returning cast members from Sitaru’s previous titles), we receive a marvelous single take sequence where the camera rests in one spot as we watch the family interact, generally in the kitchen with the bathroom providing a layered depth, and, in the first storyline, the film’s most entertaining moment.

Social commentary about acceptable roles and relations of the domestic animal in the human living environment now that Romania is included in the European Union results in some rather pointed but minor commentary, but Domestic can’t quite escape feeling like more of slight comedy, even in the face of dire tragedy. Each family faces a situation specific to the type of animal that’s been accepted into their environment, i.e., the ire of the neighbors toward a dog, a child’s upset at the consumption of rabbit and his parents’ resistance at allowing a wounded pigeon into the home, and a cat who’s blamed as the cause of not only a tragic death, but subsequently a sacred remembrance of a lost one.

Divided into two sections, “Domestic Life” and “Domestic Death,” its most memorable sequence transpires quite early on and Sitaru never quite reaches this zenith again, particularly in a dwindling second half which feels incredibly lackluster in comparison. Interesting conversations abound, most notably a conversation where an atheist father spouts his thoughts over a holiday meal concerning his theories on Jesus being a visitor from the future since time travel is the next technological advancement. While inevitably the film is not as rewarding as Best Intentions, Sitaru, reteaming with DP Adrian Silisteanu, has made his best looking film, to date.

Reviewed on December 3, 2013 for the 8th edition of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
★★ 1/2

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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