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October 4, 2022

What’s new in Romanian cinema?

The latest edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF) has illustrated to some extent a re-launch for the Romanian cinema which has been in somewhat of a slump in recent years especially after it had gotten us used to prestigious successes at great international competitions.

Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Treasure” did not go unnoticed at Cannes either, where it won an award, although not among the biggest. The film was born by chance, following a real event in which some of the producers were involved – they went and dug in a courtyard where rumors pointed to the existence of a possible buried treasure. They found nothing but they then made a film with a different ending, a much happier one. The film as such is difficult to place in a category: is it a prank, a fairy tale, a satire? In general, the psychology of characters relies a lot on unusual credulity: they allow themselves to be caught up in an action based on delusions. And while the narration nevertheless allows for the outlining of more nuanced portraits, the ultimate goals induce an atmosphere at the limit of realism. This was probably the challenge that the director took on, offering us scenes of daily life subsumed however to an obsolete pathos – the reference to the legend of Robin Hood is not inserted by chance. This combination of realistic minimalism – a scantily furnished office room, a window toward the semi-basement, an abandoned house, a regular grass-covered courtyard, a village street, an aerated bank office – and fairytale mentality which ignores the regular suspicions of a rational-pragmatic psychology is what makes the film novel. But “The Treasure” confirms Corneliu Porumboiu’s evolution toward formalism and pure aesthetic play. While his remarkable “12:08 East of Bucharest” already dealt with “nothing,” because it analyzed the absence of revolt in a provincial town, the “revolution” had nevertheless taken place elsewhere, it was a reality that did not just irradiate there. It was a film about reality’s passive counterpoint. With “Police, adjective,” the film that followed, reality is restricted even more, so that a “semiotic” discussion about the intimate divorce between words and notions, in other words between actions and their meaning, makes sense. The lead character is shown for minutes on end during an ordinary stakeout at the street corner or sipping soup at home. “Nothingness” seems to expand time, marked by its lack of consistency. The giving up on the “theme” is even more radical in “When Evening Falls on Bucharest,” where we only deduce it is about a hidden affair between a film director and the actress of the film he is working on. All this proves the growing lack of interest for the role played by themes in conceiving films – a characteristic that brought him praise from France’s “Cahiers du Cinema” magazine, the promoter of rather formalist esthetics.

Cristi Puiu, another decisive film director of the “Romanian new wave,” is not aloof from such an evolution either.

But not all of them follow this path. Radu Munteanu is still preoccupied with issues of conscience, even though his characters face an insidious moral flattening. “One Floor Below” tells the surprising case of a man that does not denounce an alleged killer of a neighbor, himself living in the same apartment building. The spectator is excited to wonder why he does not do so, especially since later on the killer himself provokes him, fed up with torturing suspense. Nevertheless, the man is consistent with avoiding any involvement. It’s a typology more representative than we would imagine. The man is a go-doer, he knows how to easily solve issues that are tiresome and annoying for others – he registers cars, in order words he solves on a daily basis various bureaucratic issues, managing to skillfully work his way through an environment that typifies the extremely competitive urban chaos. But precisely this “success” makes him evasive when it comes to denouncing a crime. Because his model of capability to manage ignores the classical moral notions of “good and evil.” To “manage” is beyond the morality based on much more binding and problematic choices. Just like Cristian Mungiu, Radu Munteanu presents the other trend of current Romanian film: stress laid on well-chosen themes significant for the tensions of contemporary life, seeking mostly an anthropological investigation.


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