Serious Romania

in 19th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Jenni Zylka

Romania is a serious place. In any case, so it seems, if you want a resume of the nine films from this year’s Romanian Days selection at the Transylvania International Film Festival TIFF, it would go something like: ‘Serious Matters, (mostly) Serious People’; on the documentary side it is the late effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the forced relocation of a Roma family, the bad condition of the Romanian education system, and a tender portrait of ageism; whereas the fictional plots revolve around the narrow-minded provincial church, the corrupt police force, a fatal cancer, a dissatisfied actress and a gloomy whodunit.

But this seriousness is a good and fruitful one: Even more so in the sometimes dark topics, you could feel sincerity in the making. There seems to be a strong certainty in all of the ten filmmakers (the Fipresci winner was made by a couple), an unswerving will of following their cinematic paths, and a deep faith in their own intentions. Even if it reveals more than expected: Especially Everything Will Not Be Fine (Totul nu va fi bine, 2020), the convincing FIPRESCI winner, which morphs from a touching story of living with physical peculiarities to a personal portrait of a difficult relationship, and back again – all this conveyed without ever losing the empathy of the viewers.

However, the fact that there was only one out of nine films made by a female director alone in this section – Ivana Mladenovic’s brisk, half-biographical nouvelle-vague satire Ivana the Terrible (Ivana cea Groaznică, 2019), and another one with a male and a female director (the stated documentary), still keeps one wondering: Are there really fewer ‘serious’ female Romanian filmmakers, therefore a smaller selection of possible films? Or is it, as seen in other countries and societies, also a question of who selects the films, and how aware the selectors are of gender aspect? (Or does it even belong to a tradition – how many female Romanian directors can you list spontaneously!? Thank god for Adina Pintilie…)

Regards the protagonists, the gender quota is a little better: Because House of Dolls (Casa cu păpuși, 2020), made by a male director, is about a group of female seniors, there are, together with Ivana, Ana (the sick half of the couple in Beginning (Inceput, 2020)) and the female directorial part of Everything Will Not Be Fine, at least a few women’s fates, adventures and thoughts told. Yet, the bottom line still pays too little intention to the fact, that 50% of the world, therefore of anything in it, may it be decisions, rules or hobbies, is female. And the conditions, that allow grown up-people in the startling and incredible well-made story of Legacy (Urma, 2019) to be at ease with the idea of asking someone to rape your sister for the purpose of her having children, these alleged conditions are the actual problem in a society. Legacy, I’m happy to say, is well aware of this terrible situation – and leads the audience inconspicuously and cleverly past the male protagonist, to the supposed damsel in distress, which turns out to be more active (and more fatal) than it seemed.

What connects these nine films to the work of already more famous Romanian directors like Cristi Puiu (his Malmkrog (2020) was shown at the TIFF), the 2013 Berlinale winner Calin Peter Netzer (for Child’s Pose (Poziția copilului, 2013), or the exceptional half-documentary Touch Me Not (Nu mă atinge, 2018) by Adina Pintilie, that succeeds in addressing all the important subjects including gender aspects, is, anyhow, this said sincerity, and an interest to go where a film is really needed. Films that are felt to be a genuine expression of every (old or new) generation of Romanian filmmakers, should be more real than escapist, more hurt than consoling. And this is a brave and impressive attitude – considering the difficulties that the Romanian film has to face. Other film industries would more likely give up – and try to be as commercial and mainstream as they can.

Jennifer Zylka
Edited by Steven Yates