After Graduation: Looking Back on a Romanian Permanence

in 69th Cannes Film Festival

by Bujor-Ion Ripeanu

More than the surprise of the Palme d’Or won in 1957 by Ion Popescu-Gopo’s A Brief History, Liviu Ciulei’s Forest of the Hanged, the first Romanian film to win The Best Director Award, certified Romania’s ability to come up with internationally acclaimed productions. The many-sided talent of the architect, film director, stage designer, script writer, and actor Liviu Ciulei, his ambition and capacity to master the making of a complex film, to render on film a Romanian literature masterpiece and to highlight its contemporary significance, marked the moment when Romanian cinema took “its first step to universality” (Florian Potra).

The 70’s and 80’s saw, as far as Romanian filmmaking is concerned, a steady growth followed by a relative stabilization of production, as well as the rise of young talents belonging to successive generations. Overcoming the hurdles of a system restraining individuals asserting their artistic personality, managing quite often to defeat the political censorship exerted by the state producer, and despite an information blockade and environment dominated by political taboos, filmmakers were able to keep abreast of significant developments in world cinema. The first signs announcing a ‘Romanian New Cinema’ that will materialize after 2000, emerged during these decades: Reenactment (Lucian Pintilie, 1969), Stone Wedding (Dan Pita, Mircea Veroiu, 1973), Beyond the Sands (Radu Gabrea, 1973), A Girl’s Tears (Iosif Demian, 1982) made their way to Cannes screens and international recognition, sometimes in spite of opposition by authorities in the producer’s country.

After the Revolution (1989), on the background of upheaval in the Romanian film industry and in the country itself, several filmmakers and their films showcased at Cannes riveted attention to a dynamic renewal: Lucian Pintilie (represented four times between 1992 and 2003) and Mircea Daneliuc (1995) and, in the new millennium: Cristi Puiu, Catalin Mitulescu (Palme d’Or, 2004), Cornel Porumboiu (three awards between 2006 and 2015), Cristian Nemescu (2007), Marian Crisan (Palme d’Or, 2008), Bogdan Mirica (2016, FIPRESCI Prize for debut) and particularly Cristian Mungiu (three key awards: 2007 – 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Palme d’Or; 2012 – Beyond the Hills, Best Screenplay; 2016 – Graduation, Best Director).

When, in 1946, a practically unknown cinema managed to send two films to the first postwar Cannes – the short documentary Rustic Rhapsody and the medium-reel feature film Edelweiss, directed by two veteran Romanian filmmakers (Jean Mihail and Paul Calinescu, respectively), a modest reward went to the former, standing for the first acknowledgment ever of a Romanian film at Cannes.

Many of the more than 50 shorts and feature films presented at various festival sections during the following 70 years won major awards. This is what critic Ioan Lazar called “the Romanians’ Cannes” in his 2010 book, a phrase implying by no means a taking into possession, but only assuming the status of a burgeoning national film scene and acknowledging the opportunities coming with participation and success at the “most important international film festival”.

The Romanian presence at the 2016 festival anchored by the attention attracted by Cristian Mungiu, Cristi Puiu and Bogdan Mirica, highlights the vitality of a “small” film industry, one that has become a focus for cinema lovers worldwide.

St. Jean Cassian, the patron saint of Cannes, who in the 5th century took part in the Christianization of the people of Gaul hailed from the mouth of the Danube. Some say there must be a connection between this saint and the Romanian films at Cannes.

Edited by Rita Di Santo