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January 29, 2022

The next wave

At each edition, TIFF consecrates special attention to Romanian film, the national premieres presented here months before hitting the cinemas not being few. So the festival in Cluj is also a barometer of the evolution of local film.

However, not all years are equally rich. This year is remarkable, not just because of the various debuts but because of a significant paradigm shift. In other words, the so-called “new wave,” which has had novel success in the world, is about to be replaced by another one, maybe meeker but more playful. In fact, the former’s aesthetic coherence was more an invention of the critics, who pushed the perception of similarities at the expense of differences, in order to ease a classification that was not lacking in advertisement stakes. Nevertheless, some common characteristics are hard to dispute, so that, eventually, even a certain mannerism appeared. At any rate, the time when Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu were the main idols of local cinema people is gone.

The changes can be easily seen. For instance, after an excess of despair, grey and boring, comedy is making a comeback; not the easy and vulgar comedy but the sophisticated one, which resorts to a more pretentious humour and serves topics just as grave as in the case of the “new wave’s” tragedies. Andrei Cretulescu’s ‘Charleston’ picks up something from the aesthetic conventions of comic magazines – at the level of the typology of characters and atmosphere, far from a far too emasculating psychological realism. An unlikely couple, a tough guy and a wimp, are brought together by the death of a common lover. More precisely, that of their ex-wife and former discrete lover respectively. Thus, adultery – rarely seen in the notable films of the last two decades – reappears, after the young families’ strident problems of ‘incommunicability.’ In this case, the low-tone question regarding the reasons for cheating on the husband imparts a different stake on the small happenings of an original tragicomic couple.  In the end, the strange “friendship” seems more significant than the loneliness of the old characters shut in their existential shell. Vlad Zamfirescu’s ‘The Secret of Happiness’ also talks about adultery in a novel manner. The cheated husband plans an ingenious moral torment.

First, relaxed, he proposes wife swapping to his best friend. Once in this game, but with the cap fitting, his wife and his friend, the latter being already the former’s lover, are exposed by the husband, who seemed to have thus taught them a subtle lesson. But he ups the stakes, lyingly saying he has AIDS, which would make the infection of all four of them plus their children very likely. The effects are rapid: hatred between the two lovers and his friend having suicidal thoughts. It all started as a game against hypocrisy and in favour of assumed swinging, only to end with an implacable ruling enforced by the defendants themselves. It all happens in a wonderful sidewalk café – the expression of exhibited prosperity the likes of 1950s America, in contrast to the grey post-communist era of the old apartment buildings.

In ‘Several Conversations about a Very Tall Girl,’ director Bogdan Theodor Olteanu leaves behind not only marriages but also adulteries, to probe a world that thinks differently about couples, apparently in a more lax and libertine way. A novelty is also the open tackling of the lesbian theme, so far tackled in Romania only by Tudor Giurgiu in ‘Love Sick.’ But unlike the atmosphere proposed by the latter, this time around the girls’ parents are more of an absence, and social inhibitions are extremely asymmetric. One of them hides, the other is provocative and open. Emanuel Parvu’s ‘Meda or The Not So Bright Side of Things’ also comes up with something new: the rural atmosphere. So far, the urban setting has been undoubtedly privileged, and the human conflicts seemed to significantly reflect vertical cohabitation and the crowded neighbourhoods of apartment buildings rather than the dotting about in villages.

Moreover, the film has a stronger social critique side, previously presented rather in the backdrop, back then subordinated to a vision that was not so much put in historical context – the universal human condition rather than the condition of individuals caught-up in socially circumscribed gearing was of more interest. Daniel Sandu’s ‘One Step Behind the Seraphim’ talks about teenagers and clerical education, yet more original topics after the priority shown to interest in young adults who, apart from certain exceptions, do not have religious preoccupations. In fact, the tackling of religion – after Cristian Mungiu’s ‘Beyond the Hills,’ a premiere in this sense – keeps getting refined, widening the field of investigation, matching its determinant role on various levels of society.

It is not longer about a tense rapport between man and God, but about a diffuse and daily clerical presence, based on pastoral mentalities adapted to some of the most banal social dynamics.

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