Sometimes the “dark” past can become the spring of “enlightenment” of a new generation. More than four decades of communism in which culture was used only for propaganda purposes might seem a legacy difficult to overcome. But in the case of Romania the “grey” past wasn’t an obstacle but the source of inspiration for a new generation of filmmakers and the roots of the spectacular revival of Romanian cinema. The totalitarian past and the transition to democracy of the Eastern European country were the themes that inspired the “New Wave” of Romanian filmmakers. Most of the films of the Romanian New Wave are set during the 1980’s under Ceausescu’s communist rule, dealing with the struggles and adaptation of life under the regime of a dictator. Minimalist in style and often austere, the movies give a realistic feel to the spectator still employing black humour and cynicism as common features.
The first movie that opened the door of the international success was Trafic directed by Catalin Mitulescu which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Since then, for the following 4 years, Romanian movies didn’t leave Cannes without a prize. The Death of Mr.Lăzărescu, the second feature by Cristi Puiu, after receiving wide international critical acclaim, received Un Certain Regard in 2005 at Cannes. The dark comedy tells the story of the last night of an old man who is carried from one hospital to another as he is refused treatment at every step and just sent away by the doctors. Besides the moral questions raised and the paradox of bringing smiles on the viewer’s face, the movie can be also read as a damning commentary on the changing economic and political landscape of Romania, whose swift transition to capitalism and democracy changed the way many individuals lived their lives and treated others.
The international success continues with Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest independently financed feature film, which won the Camera d’Or in 2006. But the uptrend of the New Wave Romanian Cinema culminated in 2007 when Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won Palme d’Or at the 60th edition of Cannes Film Festival. The film telling the story of two roommates trying to arrange an illegal abortion acts as a painful reminder of the oppression and misery that was suffered under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. Set in an era when the Romanian communist ruler was trying to increase the population by banning any method of contraception, the movie not only gives the audience goosebumps but also food for thought. Besides naming the film his number one favorite of 2007, A.O. Scott , chief film critic for The New York Times, also put the film on his best of the decade list coming in at the number 7 spot.
Movies like The Paper Will Be Blue, California Dreamin’, “Police, Adjective”, Tuesday, After Christmas and If I want to whistle, I whistle are other examples of movies that complete the international success of the New Wave of Romanian cinema and that are a “must see” for any European cinema lover.
The gloomy political past of Romania was just the “kick starter theme” that inspired the new generation of filmmakers. The international success of Romanian independent movies was confirmed every year in important film festivals even though the plots shifted their set in modern Romania, picturing contemporary problems. The last example came just this year, when The Child’s Pose directed by Călin Peter Netzer won the Golden Bear in 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.
Reporting from Cannes in 2010 for Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik said: “Romanians can’t make a bad film. It’s, like, illegal in their country. Or at least not in their DNA”. We are not doctors so we can’t say if it’s a matter of DNA or not, but what we know for sure is that any independent movie lover should try and find out what the Romanian film universe has to offer and all Romanian film makers should send us their latest films to be evaluated for ÉCU’s 2014 edition. We are eager to discover fresh Romanian creations and expose them to a wide international audience. So just find out how to do it here and amaze us with your movie!
by Ruxandra Matei