Good News from Romanian Cinema

in 19th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Jean-Max Méjean

Since the end of the 1980s and the fall of the Ceaucescu’s, Romanian cinema has become very popular in Europe, particularly in France. This is mostly attributed to the young directors, graduates of the Bucharest school, who imposed themselves on the cinematographic landscape in the 2000s, such as: Catalin Mitulescu for The Way I Spent The End Of The World (Cum mi-am petrecut sfârsitul lumii, 2006); Cristi Puiu with The Death of Dante Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lăzărescu, 2006); Cristian Mungiu for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile, Palme d’or 2007, Cannes Festival,); and Corneliu Porumboiu for his 12:08 to the East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, 2007); to name only a few.

It is true that a Romanian film is recognizable among a thousand others in only a few scenes, so original is its cinematographic style, managing to be both humorous and terribly realistic, without falling into some comparatively French filmmakers naturalism. Therefore, it is an author’s cinema to be reckoned with.

The 19th Transylvania International Film Festival in Cluj-Napoca (July 31 – August 9, 2020), in the Romanian Days selection, offered us an anthology of nine films, of what Romanian cinema is doing best at the moment, both in terms of documentary and that of fiction.

Regarding documentaries, Teach (Profu’, 2019) by Alex Brendea was already awarded at the Astra festival in Sibiu. An excellent film, and not only specific to Romania, it conveys an image of pedagogy as it should be implemented, between trust and empathy, through the portrait of a good-natured teacher and his students.  

Acasă, My Home (2020), by Radu Ciorniciuc, was the second documentary offered in this section and concerns a Roma family having lived for years by the Bucharest River Delta and being dislodged, then relocated, to make way for a natural park in the middle of the city. There is no doubt that this Romanian masterpiece is destined to have a great success.

As for the third documentary, House of Dolls (Casa pu păpuși, 2020) by Tudor Plato it recounts in a poetic and melancholy way, present in many shots, a countryside holiday taken by a group of octogenarian women and provides all the spices of Romanian cinema.  

The fourth of this fairly balanced choice of documentaries, Ivana the Terrible (Ivana cea Groaznică, 2019) by Ivana Mladenović, is an uncompromising self-portrait of an actress of Romanian origin living in Serbia. After facing health problems, she decides to spend the summer in her small Serbian hometown on the Danube, surrounded by her family. Subsequently, she reluctantly accepts the mayor’s proposal to become the face of the local music festival.

The last film in the documentary category, Everything Will Not Be Fine (Totul nu va fi bine, 2020), by Adrian Pîrvu and Helena Maksyom, was also the film to which the jury of the Fipresci Festival decided to grant its prize. This award is a vibrant tribute to a man who lost his eyesight little by little and who, accompanied by his girlfriend, returns to Chernobyl, the place which was the cause of his handicap, in order to have the strength to make the film: one vibrant and powerful!

The other four films in The Romanian Days section were equally magnificent works of fiction: Carturan (2019) by Liviu Săndulescu, quite classical in style, gives a beautiful portrayal of present-day Romania, with its melancholy, the loneliness of the inhabitants of the countryside and a threatening disease, making children orphaned. The main actor, Teodor Corban, also plays in another entry, Legacy (Urma, 2019) by Dorian Boguță, a disturbing movie about a disappearance, a movie bordering on the thriller and psychological genre.

The two other fiction entries seemed bland by comparison, in comparison with the rest of the section; such as Beginning (Inceput, 2020) by Răzvan Săvescu, which is a kind of anti-love romance in the countryside; and Five Minutes Too Late (2019) by Dan Chișu, a little too clichéd and small-screen in its production values for a hot topic in Romania (or anywhere) about homophobia and therefore comes across a little too conventional and predictable.

Finally, these encounters with Romanian cinema, even if they have remained a virtual event, due to the coronavirus, still make us want to relive the experience next year and hopefully ‘in situ’. Until then, take care of yourselves and the cinema.

Jean-Max Mejean
Edited by Steven Yates