(unpublished article about Transilvania International Film Festival 2011)
This year the New Romanian Cinema, which emerged along with the new millennium, has reached a decade of worldwide success (as we are all aware now, its first relevant feature was Stuff and Dough [Marfa şi banii, 2001], directed by Cristi Puiu). The best period for this internationally recognized phenomenon was between 2005 and 2007, when Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lăzărescu [Moartea domnului Lăzărescu, 2005], Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest [A fost sau n-a fost?, 2006], Cătălin Mitulescu’s The Way I Spent the End of the World [Cum mi-am petrecut sfârşitul lumii, 2006], Cristian Nemescu’s California Dreamin’ (Endless) [California Dreamin’ (nesfârşit), 2007] and Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile, 2007] won major awards in Cannes and other reputed festivals, culminating with the first Palme d’Or for a feature film ever received by a local director.
The year is 2011 and virtually every Romanian involved in the field of cinema is wondering how long it will take before festivals all around the globe lose interest (if they haven’t already) in “the new Romanian film”, because, as some might say, “nothing new will come out of it”. I won’t try to answer this question, but to shed some light on the underlying issue.
First of all, thinking on a longer term, I strongly believe that international festival programmers and cinephiles alike will stop looking for “the new Romanian film” and instead will look forward to “the new Cristi Puiu film”, “the new Corneliu Porumboiu film”, “the new Cristian Mungiu film”, etc. In other words, the New Romanian Cinema will no longer be perceived as a whole and its most gifted and original directors will distinguish themselves from the other local filmmakers, as auteurs worth following.
For the moment, the biggest challenge for Romanian filmmakers is how to deal with the realistic formula introduced – and later imposed – by Cristi Puiu. This realistic model, which is labelled as “minimalist” by both national and international critics, has turned into a trademark of the New Romanian Cinema for the international audience. However, it should be noted that Cristi Puiu himself has taken a clear distance from his own previous “winning formula” with his latest film, Aurora , by not resorting to excessive, yet subtly revealing dialogues, and by leaving more space for the spectators to fill in the blanks, thus taking audience participation to a higher level.
Răzvan Rădulescu, who cowrote the screenplays for the first two films directed by Cristi Puiu, has found his own way after The Death of Mr Lăzărescu, becoming the most popular screenwriter in Romania (so popular that even filmmakers from other European countries are resorting to his services) and, more recently, an appreciated director, for his debut feature (written and directed together with Melissa de Raaf), First of All, Felicia [Felicia, înainte de toate, 2009]. His more-talking-less-doing, sometimes overcerebralized and frustrating (for the audience) version of realistic cinema seems to have reached a dead end, if we take into consideration Constantin Popescu’s second feature, Principles of Life [Principii de viaţă, 2010], whose screenplay is credited to Răzvan Rădulescu and Alexandru Baciu (it should be added that both of them have also contributed to all the three films directed by Radu Muntean in the last five years).
Nowadays every Romanian director who dreams of an international career (as, unfortunately, the domestic industry is still too underdeveloped for filmmakers to make legal profits from the local distribution of their productions) has to answer at least one major question: should he or she adopt the already patented formula to tell a story (i.e. present a seemingly ordinary “slice of life” as honestly and non-manipulatively as the cinematic medium allows), hoping that festival programmers will fall for it, or should he or she try to bring something new and innovative?
Fortunately, the New Romanian Cinema can count on several talented directors who have chosen the second, apparently more risky version. Their recent films manage to transcend the realistic model by cleverly using classical dramaturgy or genre elements, surreal moments or symbols, elaborated camera movements or close-ups, unconventional editing or non-diegetic music, etc. Most of these directors are first time helmers, such as Florin Şerban (If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle [Dacă vreau să fluier, fluier, 2010]), Marian Crişan (Morgen ), Bogdan George Apetri (Outbound [Periferic, 2010]) or Gabriel Achim, whose Adalbert’s Dream [Visul lui Adalbert, 2011] premiered at the Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF) and was one of the most pleasant surprises of the anniversary edition. However, with his second feature, Medal of Honour [Medalia de onoare, 2009], Călin Peter Netzer can be also included in this category, together with the above mentioned Cristi Puiu. It should be said that the tenth TIFF presented also some rather unfortunate examples of “alternatives” to the quasi-dogmatic Romanian realism, which are not worth mentioning here.
In the following months, we may be pleasantly surprised by other new films. For example, this year the competition of the Locarno Film Festival will bring again the world premiere of two Romanian films (after Morgen and Outbound in 2010), both of them directed by second time helmers: Anca Damian’s Crulic – The Path to Beyond [Crulic – Drumul spre dincolo] and Adrian Sitaru’s Best Intentions [Din dragoste, cu cele mai bune intenţii]. The list of promising debut features includes Little Spartan [Micul spartan] by Dragoş Iuga and Somewhere in Palilula [Undeva la Palilula] by the acclaimed stage director Silviu Purcărete. So, for the time being, we have no reason to worry for the future of the New Romanian Cinema.