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IFFR 2023 Bright Future

Review: Day of the Tiger


- Actress Cătălina Moga carries Andrei Tănase's assured debut as a woman under the pressure of a male-dominated society

Review: Day of the Tiger
Cătălina Moga (centre) in Day of the Tiger

Romanian writer-director Andrei Tănase's first feature, Day of the Tiger [+see also:
interview: Andrei Tănase
film profile
, which has just world-premiered in IFFR's Bright Future section, is a sober and restrained drama about a woman buckling under pressure from a male-dominated society but not giving up. Led by the excellent Cătălina Moga (Sieranevada [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Cristi Puiu
film profile
) in the main role, it is an assured debut for the filmmaker.

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Vera (Moga) is a veterinarian at the zoo in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. As the film opens, we see her treating Rihanna, the tigress that a local criminal bought from a circus, and teaching her young assistant, Paul (Bogdan Tulbure), who clearly has a thing for her. When, that evening, she arrives at her practice in town to grab some pills for a client's cat, she witnesses her actor-director husband Toma (Paul Ipate) cheating on her. She just pulls away from the window and heads home.

She gives the local priest a call: her request that the body of her son, who died at only four days old, be moved to the cemetery has been rejected by the Archdiocese. It does not matter to them that the baby could not have been baptised in such a short period. Not that we see this in Moga's performance, but we don't need to, either: something has snapped inside her. She goes back to the zoo and, after feeding Rihanna, leaves the cage unlocked and falls asleep on a pile of hay in the park.

The next morning, the tigress has escaped, leaving a slain deer on the zoo's outer fence. Very quickly, a search is organised together with the police, a group of hunters, a TV crew and with Toma joining in. The zoo borders a national park, and this is where the search party spreads out, with Vera and Toma almost getting lost due to the argument they have as she confronts him about what she saw.

The film is a restrained social and character study that rings completely true, primarily thanks to the nuanced script and Moga's subtle performance. Leaving the cage door open could conceivably have been accidental in Vera's agitated state of mind, a sort of nervous breakdown that is not visible from the outside. But the way it was filmed, it feels more like it was intentional, and as such would represent the character resigning herself to her fate, however temporary. This is, however, something ultimately left to each viewer to decide for themselves.

Moga's acting is subdued, and the director counts on the audience’s perceptiveness to recognise her character's reactions in the smallest ways, such as the slightly deeper breath she takes when she catches Toma. Their argument is shown realistically, her seething with rage and setting out to hurt him while barely raising her voice, and him being defensive.

There is some deadpan humour in the film as well, but not of the laugh-out-loud variety. Rather, viewers will register how Vera feeds Toma's panic after he is bitten by a snake, or Rihanna's owner and his henchmen ridiculously brandishing samurai swords.

Barbu Bălășoiu's cinematography is classical, with clear colours, realistic lighting and a traditional approach to various types of shots. JB Dunckel's musical score is similarly direct and clear with its rhythms and instruments, simply underlining the moods.

A co-production between Romania's Domestic Film, France's Altamar Films and Greece's Graal, Day of the Tiger is handled internationally by Paris-based Totem Films.

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