The term Romanian New Wave has already become somewhat problematic. A movement that is largely overlooked in its home country (at least, if box office numbers are to be believed), the label serves to codify a handful of young directors who have emerged on the world cinema stage over the last decade. To some, the movement represents a compendium of like-minded directors making similar statements in the wake of the overthrow of brutal dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. “Take two international successes from any given year and you’ll find commonality,” asserts Mike Dawson of Left Field Cinema. “You may have to search in the darkest of thematic recesses, but it is there to be found.”
The filmmakers, however, eschew the label, preferring to regard their films as individual artistic statements, rather than be classified as cogs in a unified historical system. Cristi Puiu, director of the first major hit of the cycle, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, declared to critic A.O. Scott, “There is not, not, not a Romanian New Wave.”
Scott, for his part, in his notable account of the movement, falls somewhere in the middle, at one point remarking that Romanian new wave “does not necessarily represent a unified or coherent movement.” Two paragraphs later, though, he maintains that “to watch recent Romanian movies… is to discover a good deal of continuity and overlap in addition to obvious differences.”
Whatever the problems of terminology, the geyser of internationally recognized talent to arrive from Romania since 2005 has had as large an impact on world cinema as any this century. After the critical breakthrough of director’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in 2005, Romanian cinema flourished across the international stage. At Cannes alone, Romanian films took home four major awards in the three years between 2005 and 2007, including a Palme d’Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. Critics, art-house audiences, and festival goers responded strongly to the films’ minimalist style, intense personal stories, and fervent dedication to realistic portrayals of everyday life, whether in the waning days of Ceausescu’s oppressive regime, or during the current post-revolution transition to capitalist democracy.
Despite some filmmakers’ objections to the contrary, most people seem to agree that Romania is in the midst of a film movement, borne of the shared experiences and influences of its filmmakers. Predictably, the Romanian film under Ceausescu’s rule was a nationalized industry. According to The Economist, it was “subsidized to create socialist films that portrayed a happy working-class family,” movies that “praised a fake economic prosperity while people were forced to queue for hours to buy milk or meat.” Speaking for his generation, which is old enough to remember life under Ceausescu, director Cristian Mungiu (4 Weeks, 3 Months, 2 Days) recalled, “Nothing like this ever happened in real life. And you got this desire to say: ‘People, you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is all fake. This is not what you should be telling in films.’” It is that rebellion against such propaganda of their childhood that prompts A.O. Scott to observe in their films “an almost palpable impulse to tell the truth, to present choices, conflicts and accidents without exaggeration or omission.”
In ESFS Film Festival #7 – Romanian New Wave, we will be viewing and discussing three films from the movement, directed by three key directors. First up will be Corneliu Porumboiu’s 2006 film 12:08 East of Bucharest, from 2006, a satirical comedy that takes place during the 16th anniversary of the revolution in Romania. Following that, we will view Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, about a woman trying to get an illegal abortion in the final days of Ceausescu’s rule. And finally, we will watch the contemporary-set Tuesday, After Christmas, Radu Muntean’s well-regarded 2010 drama about infidelity. All films are available for rental on disc, and both 4 Months… and Tuesday, After Christmas are available for instant streaming through Netflix.
Here is the full schedule:
Thursday, August 7: 12:08 East of Bucharest (Dir: Corneliu Porumboiu) [Review by Mike Dub]
Monday, August 11: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Dir: Cristian Mungiu) [Review by Daniel Barnes]
Monday, August 18: Tuesday, After Christmas (Dir: Radu Muntean) [Review by Mike Dub]