Imagine a cinematic version of a game of Cluedo, where instead of solving a murder, guests discuss God, destiny, science, progress, patriotism, and nobility. This is the setting for Malmkrog, Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s delirious film set in an noble estate in Transylvania at the turn of the 19th century. Invited to a Christmas Eve dinner, the guests of aristocratic landowner Nikolai include a young countess, a general, a politician, and various noblemen who, dressed in immaculate period clothing, embark on polite but passionate discussions inspired by War and Christianity: Three Conversations, a 1915 text by Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov.
It isn’t explicitly clear whether the film is a feverish dream or a satire on the arrogance of elites, but it surely has an extraordinary element. Over the course of multiple meals, almost in a sequence of theatrical tableaux, guests test each other’s intellectual boundaries — and those of the audience — while discussing hot topics of the era: war, empire, and progress. Suddenly, the film goes silent, and closes with guests contemplating the falling snow. Known for The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Cristi Puiui released Malmkrog in 2020, and won Best Director at the Encounters section of the Berlinale. Malmkrog is a demanding watch but an unforgettable one, and its sumptuous setting and self-indulgent dialogues are seductive and captivating.