(article written for the Romanian Focus of East End Film Festival 2011)
The New Romanian Cinema emerged along with the new millennium. Its first major feature was Stuff and Dough [Marfa şi banii, 2001], directed by Cristi Puiu. This film, which is also the most important national debut after the revolution of 1989, provided to Romanian filmmakers a new model of cinema. This has gradually turned into a local fashion, particularly following the huge international success of The Death of Mr Lăzărescu [Moartea domnului Lăzărescu, 2005], the second feature of the same director, which won the “Un Certain Regard” prize in Cannes and many other awards.
Several ingredients of the formula introduced – and later imposed – by Cristi Puiu can still be identified in recent Romanian films, such as the second feature of Constantin Popescu, Principles of Life [Principii de viaţă], or the fourth feature of Radu Muntean, Tuesday, after Christmas [Marţi, după Crăciun], and it is no coincidence that one of the screenwriters of both mentioned films is Răzvan Rădulescu, who had also contributed to Stuff and Dough and The Death of Mr Lăzărescu. Some of these elements, recurrent in many Romanian films produced during the last decade, are the sheer and uncomfortable realism, the plausible situations (several films are based on real events), the “live” characters (neither extraordinary, nor exponential), the authentic dialogues (filled with “nothings” that actually mean a lot and uttered very naturally, without the theatricality that characterized most of the actors’ performances in previous Romanian films), the parsimonious usage of editing cuts, the programmatic refusal of close-ups and non-diegetic music. All this in an attempt to reflect as honestly as possible the “slice of life” – with a remarkable devotion, sometimes taken to the extreme, to the truth of the stories and characters brought on the screen – and not to resort to manipulative cinematic techniques. However, there has been a change of focus in the New Romanian Cinema, from social-related issues and how they influence the lives of the characters, to interpersonal relations (family ties, love and friendship) and what lies beneath them.
An excellent example is Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, after Christmas, which, as his previous feature, Boogie (2008), proposes a kind of realistic cinema that can attract urban, more (or less) intellectual audiences, thanks to its middle class characters and stories. This time, the director presents a break-up (the protagonist chooses his mistress over his wife, with whom he has a young daughter) and manages to create a strong feeling of real life. In Principles of Life, Constantin Popescu reflects a little more than one day in a life divided between two families. Before leaving in vacation, a successful businessman, apparently very self-controlled, faces growing personal and professional tensions, which could lead to a disaster. Great acting contributes to the verisimilitude of both films.
The best feature debut launched in Romanian cinemas in 2010, Morgen by Marian Crişan, transcends the realistic model in order to present a quite classical story about the unusual friendship that develops, beyond words, between an “E.T.” and his temporary host. The writer-director manages to extract deep meanings from the ordinary, everyday life of the characters, in a memorable, profoundly human dramedy, which can touch audiences all over the world.
Outbound [Periferic] by Bogdan George Apetri is another mature and strong debut, which also surpasses the known formula referred to above, a thriller-paced drama that resembles a revenge movie and engages the audience through its gripping story, suffocating atmosphere and impressing performances. As in many other recent Romanian films, the director follows his protagonist over the course of no more than 24 hours. The intelligent use of symbols, such as smoke/fire and water recurring in various forms and suggesting the stages of purification through which the heroine has to pass, distinguishes Bogdan George Apetri from most of the important directors of the New Romanian Cinema, who have rejected the abundance of symbols, metaphors and parables deployed by the older generations of filmmakers.
The best Romanian short film of 2010, The Cage [Colivia] by Adrian Sitaru, distinguishes itself through the subtlety with which the complexity of the characters is revealed to us, by means of the contradictory actions and relevant dialogues that draw parallels between human and animal perishable existences.
Ioana Uricaru’s Stopover, whose script is written by the acclaimed filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, is another short that focuses on the psychology of its main character, at the same time cleverly hinting at the delicate issue of Romanian immigrants in Italy.
With his student film, the subtly parodic Strung Love, which combines elements of romantic comedies and competition movies, the young and promising director Victor Dragomir proves that Romanian filmmakers are interested not only in auteur film (mostly realistic), but also in genre, audience-pleasing cinema. Nicolae Constantin Tănase is another good example for this local trend.
Other important representatives of the New Romanian Cinema, directors who made their feature debut after 2001 and have been awarded in Cannes and other major film festivals, are Radu Jude, Cătălin Mitulescu, Cristian Mungiu (the first local director to ever win a Palme d’Or for a feature film), Cristian Nemescu (who tragically died in 2006), Călin Peter Netzer, Corneliu Porumboiu, Florin Şerban, etc.
However, the New Romanian Cinema does not comprise only fiction films. Andrei Ujică, a Romanian filmmaker living in Germany, is an auteur whose montage films (using archive materials), which hover at the border between documentary and fiction, are widely considered benchmarks for the genre. Out of the Present (1995) is the middle chapter of a trilogy dedicated to the end of communism, which was begun and ended in Romania, with Videograms of a Revolution (codirected with Harun Farocki, 1992) and, respectively, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu [Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceauşescu, 2010]. In Out of the Present, which includes the only new shots in the whole trilogy, Andrei Ujică looks to the East, where he finds – and rewrites, by means of editing and voice over – the story of the cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who was in space while the Soviet Union fell apart. Other gifted documentary filmmakers belonging to the New Romanian Cinema are Dan Alexe, Dumitru Budrala, Thomas Ciulei, Florin Iepan, Alexandru Solomon, Ileana Stănculescu, etc.
Romanian animation has suffered a lot after 1989, but recent years witnessed a growing interest in this genre, coming particularly from young and passionate filmmakers, such as Anton Octavian, Tudor Avrămuţ, Adrian Băluţă, Matei Branea, Cecilia Felméri, Alexei Gubenco, etc., who have produced – mostly independently – many worthy shorts. One of these talented directors is Bogdan Mihăilescu, whose Grand Café pays a touching homage to one of the pioneers of cinema and animation, Émile Reynaud.
To sum up, the New Romanian Cinema is not limited to a quasi-dogmatic realism, so you should stay tuned for the pleasant surprises to come from these gifted filmmakers.