Sunday, January 20, 2008

Romanian Cinema

I just came across an extensive article in the New York Times about the new wave in Romania Cinema written by film critic A. O. Scott. It's practically the first time I see a comparative analysis of all the recent critically acclaimed (and also Cannes festival award winning) Romanian movies The Death of Dante Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest, California Dreamin', 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Paper Will be Blue. The most interesting part is the section discussing the similarities between the aforementioned movies which is at the core of the "is there a Romanian wave or not" debate but it's definitely worth reading the entire article since it will give you some very interesting insights on current Romanian society, movie industry and many more. Like for example this one which I personally tested in France :

"I bumped into Mungiu just outside the theater doors. He appeared to be listening intently to what was going on inside. “I think there are a lot of Romanians here tonight,” he said, looking up. I asked what gave him that impression. “They’re laughing,” he said. “They always do.”"
No, they are not brutes laughing at the horrible drama of the two students, it's the scene of the dinner party which is funny since it brings backs memories for people who have lived in Romania in the years before 1989. This scene has also another great quality, because it is placed right before the finale it works perfectly as a psychological decompression valve in an overall gloomy and depressing movie.

You should definitely check out also the multimedia section associated to the article, Romanian Cinema Rising, containing brief video analysis of scenes from each of the 5 movies. In the end here is a long citation from the article, the part which makes a parallel analysis of the movies, in which I tried to highlight the main ideas. Have a nice lecture.
"It seems like something more than coincidence, for example, that the five features that might constitute a mini-canon of 21st-century Romanian cinema — “Stuff and Dough,” Puiu’s first feature; “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”; “12:08 East of Bucharest”; “The Paper Will Be Blue,” by Radu Muntean; and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” — all confine their action to a single day and focus on a single action. This is less a matter of Aristotelian discipline than of respect for the contingency and loose-endedness of real experience. In each case, the action is completed — Lazarescu dies; the abortion in “4 Months” is performed; the broadcast in “12:08” comes to an end — but a lingering, haunting sense of inconclusiveness remains. The narratives have a shape, but they seem less like plots abstracted from life than like segments carved out of its rough rhythms. The characters are often in a state of restless, agitated motion, confused about where they are going and what they will find when they arrive. The camera follows them into ambulances, streetcars, armored vehicles and minivans, communicating with unsettling immediacy their anxiety and disorientation. The viewer is denied the luxury of distance. After a while, you feel you are living inside these movies as much as watching them.

When Otilia, the heroine of “4 Months,” joins a dinner party at her boyfriend’s house, the camera stays across the table from her, putting the audience in the position of a silent, watchful guest. We know she has just been through an unspeakably strange and awful experience, but the others, friends of the boyfriend’s parents, are oblivious, and their banal, posturing wisdom becomes excruciating. The emptiness of authority — whether generational, political or conferred by elevated social status — is an unmistakable theme in the work of nearly all the younger Romanian filmmakers. The doctors who neglect Mr. Lazarescu; the grandiose, small-time television host in “12:08”; the swaggering army commanders and rebel leaders in “The Paper Will Be Blue” and their successors, the officious bureaucrats in “California Dreamin’ ” — all of these men (and they are all men) display a self-importance that is both absurd and malignant. Their hold on power is mitigated sometimes by their own clumsiness but more often by unheralded, stubborn acts of ordinary decency. An ambulance technician decides to help out a suffering old man who is neither kin nor especially kind; a student stands stoically by her irresponsible friend; a militia officer, in the middle of a revolution, goes out of his way to find and protect an errant, idealistic young man under his command.

There is almost no didacticism or point-making in these films, none of whose characters are easily sorted into good guys and bad guys. Instead, there is an almost palpable impulse to tell the truth, to present choices, conflicts and accidents without exaggeration or omission. This is a form of realism, of course, but its motivation seems to be as much ethical as aesthetic, less a matter of verisimilitude than of honesty. There is an unmistakable political dimension to this kind of storytelling, even when the stories themselves seem to have no overt political content. During the Ceausescu era, which ended abruptly, violently and somewhat ambiguously in December 1989 — in the last and least velvety of the revolutions of that year — Romanian public life was dominated by fantasies, delusions and lies. And the filmmakers who were able to work in such conditions resorted, like artists in other communist countries, to various forms of allegory and indirection. Both Puiu and Mungiu describe this earlier mode of Romanian cinema as “metaphorical,” and both utter the word with a heavy inflection of disgust."