By Giles Eldridge

So, your idea of going to the cinema, the pictures, the flicks or to catch a movie is to go to a mall and see the latest whatever from Hollywood; wealthy people with enormous apartments in New York fall in love, argue then get married or a man with a gun empties a cartridge into another man with a differing ethnic origin in the name of freedom or some ‘cute’ animated robots trip over each other and squeak and…well you know the kind of thing. Now, I am not here to criticise any of this, it’s all good fun, however I should point out that here in Bucharest, there is an alternative, both in terms of film theatres and films themselves.

 

NOUVELLE VAGUE

Although some cinemas such as Scala, the magnificent 750 seater Patria and the Cinema Studio on Magheru were closed in 2016, for safety reasons, as a response to the Colectiv club fire tragedy, there are still some very good independent film houses in the city. Here are a few of them: Cinema PRO at Universitate is a prime alternative to the malls, often showing mainstream Hollywood within a big screen, good sound, high quality theatre. Cinema Eforie and Union are both places associated with the Arhiva Naţională de Filme and thus often show a fabulous range of films from the archive alongside new Romanian and international films, very often with English subtitles. At the French Institute on Blvd. Dacia there is the Elvire Popesco cinema, a contemporary, medium sized space, it shows European films, with Romanian and sometimes English subtitles. The Cinema at Muzeul Țăranului is situated behind the museum itself and it also stages open air projections during the summer. Finally, Glendale Studio, another good independent cinema presenting mainstream films near Grădina Botanică. At any one time there seems to always be some kind of film festival or other taking place in Bucharest, usually based at some of the aforementioned cinemas and sometimes associated with the more active international cultural outposts such as The Goethe Institute, The Czech Centre and The Cervantes or French Institute. There is the festival that features a selection of films previously shown at Cannes and there are the European film and the International Experimental film festivals, the short film festival and Anim’est, the one that features animation. But really the list goes on…Polish, Kazakh, Jewish, One World Romania, which shows political documentaries, an International Dance film festival, Fashion film festival and so on.

 

   Autopotretul unei fete cuminți (Self-portrait of a dutiful daughter) Ana Lungu, 2015

 

Anyway, my point is that there are cinematic alternatives to the malls and the subject I really want to talk about is what has become known as the New Wave in Romanian film making. There is, naturally, a healthy Romanian film history from Pintilie to Daneliuc but what has happened more recently is an internationally recognised phenomenon. Now 16 years old, depending on where one says it all started, this New Wave is not so new anymore but the style that it has established seems to continue to dominate alongside other contemporary Romanian Cinema. The phrase/name New Wave comes, of course, from the French Nouvelle Vague of the late 50s when a number of directors moved dramatically away from the straightforward narrative and ethos dominated by Hollywood and synthesised certain American movie elements with Italian style Neo-realism, albeit in a very intellectually reflexive French way. Another reference is the Czech New Wave, taking place during the 60s, known for mocking communism and replacing realism with a new surreal or farcical poetic. Yet another possible point of reference might be the Danish film revolution, Dogme 95. This was a manifesto type of movement proposing ‘a vow of chastity’ that included shooting scenes in sequence, not using additional props or extra lighting etc. While what happened in Romania was rather different to these examples there are some similarities with all three movements in terms of a definite change of attitude and to foregrounding things like real time scenes and points of tension alongside domestic normality, often losing the added musical soundtrack and working with what one might call a zeitgeist of the turn of the new century ethic – big subjects observed in a microcosm. This kind of collective filmic sea change always attracts international interest and this is the bigger picture aspect of the Romanian New Wave. Now the whole cinematic world knows about Romanian film, a hitherto rather overseen aspect of Romanian art and culture.

 

Marți după Crăciun (Tuesday after Christmas) Radu Muntean, 2010

 

DISTINCTIVE ATMOSPHERE

Like other things of this nature the New Wave is a thing that seemed to have formed by itself without an initial meeting of minds or committee meeting. But, once Cristi Puiu had set the ball rolling, other directors started to follow or modify their style accordingly. After his debut, Puiu followed up with Moartea Domnului Lăzărescu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu) in 2005 which brought the first real international attention, winning the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes that year. Two years later saw 4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile (4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days) by Cristian Mungiu take the Palme d’Or, Cannes in 2007. Forget the Oscars, all real filmmakers want the Palme d’Or, it doesn’t simply put you on the map for that year, you are the map. This set up a sort of rivalry between the two directors but really I think it should be seen as a team effort paving the way for the movement to go forward with a subtle range of social subjects and new ways of using the wealth of historical and cultural references available. In any event, the Romanian New Wave continues to this day with around 10 or so directors making films that have a distinctive Romanian style. Commentators keep saying that the wave must break, but it carries on regardless, although, true to say that maybe some are starting to go in individual directions, there are still more younger directors emerging that follow what is now an established New Wave look and feel.

 

Când se lasă seara peste București sau metabolism (When evening falls on Bucharest or metabolism) Corneliu Porumboiu, 2013

 

RELENTLESS EVERYDAYNESS

So what are these films like? Actually a little hard to describe but I’ll give a couple of examples and I will suggest a number of films not so much as a top 10 but rather to illustrate the range. The main characteristics found in such films are astute character studies developed through everyday scenarios taking the form, for example, of a simple domestic scene in a kitchen or a conversation in a car. The main theme may be a difficult situation that needs to be resolved and/or a moral dilemma. In addition, all share the vital aspect of creating distinctive atmospheres. It is an aesthetic that could be thought of as theatre in a cinematic space, seeing what it is possible to explore within the confines of clearly delineated parameters. Other aspects might include some dark humour or casual and approachable verité style cinematography.

 

Câini, (Dogs) Bogdan Mirică, 2016

 

I take the position that the source of the river is well upstream, in 2001, with Cristi Puiu’s first feature, Marfa și banii (Stuff and Dough) a measured account of youths getting into more trouble than they are aware of, delivering ‘medicine’ to Bucharest from Constanța. The cast includes a rather young Dragoș Bucur and other actors who will go on to feature in many other New Wave films. Whilst the narrative and morality aspects are ever present it is the formal structure and atmosphere that is the departure from previous Romanian film. It is a road movie without the glamour but this is a strong point. It takes the genre and gives us something recognisable. We almost feel implicated in the scenes and this is a common trait that you will see in subsequent New Wave films. The story develops slowly but tension grows and a feeling of menace follows to the end without completely erupting. The malevolent aspect contrasts with the depiction of domesticity. Indeed relentless everydayness continues and we leave the film ending knowing that the story isn’t over for the now initiated youth.

 

So, what would be a good first film to see? I would say Călin Peter Netzer’s 2013 film Poziția Copilului (Child’s Pose ). It covers a lot of contemporary issues of particular pertinence to Romania. If you have lived here a while you will recognise them, if you are new to Romania then it is a good introduction. A serious car accident has happened and the driver’s mother is at hand to use all in her influential power to get him off the hook. We see various characters hanging onto their habitual way of being whilst pushing others to change.  Family tension, denial and eventually, limited reconciliation ensues. This film progresses at a good pace, is very well written and has memorable performances from Luminița Gheorghiu and Bogdan Dumitrache. The pace and rhythm recommend it as a sound starting point.

 

 

Aurora, Cristi Puiu, 2010

 

The following are some other suggestions from a much larger catalogue covering a wide variety of themes yet sharing New Wave aesthetics.

There is film about film, murder mystery, coming of age, border issues, bribery, adultery and semantics:

Când se lasă seara peste București sau metabolism (When evening falls on Bucharest or metabolism) Corneliu Porumboiu, 2013

Aurora, Cristi Puiu, 2010

Polițist, Adjectiv (Police, Adjective) Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009, jury prize, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2009

Marți după Crăciun (Tuesday after Christmas) Radu Muntean, 2010

Autopotretul unei fete cuminți (Self-portrait of a dutiful daughter) Ana Lungu, 2015

Bacalaureat (Graduation) Cristian Mungiu, 2016

Câini, (Dogs) Bogdan Mirică, 2016

 

At any event the very best way to get an introduction to some of these films online is to visit Cinepub.ro. This is a free archive with a range of Romanian films and includes some of the films that I have mentioned plus many, many more. They have English subtitles and there is a good selection of feature films, shorts and animation.

 

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