Make Films, Not War!

in 21st Transilvania International Film Festival, Cluj-Napoca

by György Báron

From Curtiz And Korda To Contemporary Cinema

Make films, not war! was the motto of this year’s Transilvania International Film Festival in Cluj. The second largest city of Romania is part of both Romanian and Hungarian history and culture. A century has passed since cinema found back home to this town, to the playground of its childhood. In the 1910s, when Hungary was one of the world’s four biggest film-producing countries, the boom started here, in Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár), at the film studio of Jenő Janovics (known as the “Hungarian Pathé”), where Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz) and Sándor Korda (Sir Alexander Korda), among others, set out their careers. From here, they went on to set up studios in Budapest and then rose to world fame in London and Hollywood.

After a hundred years, the city is once again on the international film map, this time as the friendly home of one of the region’s most exciting film events. This year, the two guest countries of honour were Poland and Israel. The traditional Hungarian Cultural Days of Cluj were also held again, an exemplary event for the coexistence of the two cultures and the cooperation between the two film industries. It was a well-balanced, high-quality must-see event, showcasing nine major recent works with a focus on young filmmakers. Among them were Wild Roots (Külön falka, 2021), winner of the Hungarian Critics’ Prize and the Grand Prix of Hungarian Motion Picture Festival, Divas (Dívák, 2021), the audience prize-winner of Verzio International Documentary Film Festival, the debut film of Nándor Lőrincz and Bálint Nagy, As Far As I Know (Legjobb tudomásom szerint, 2020), from the middle generation, Perpetuity (Mindörökké, 2021) by György Pálfi, and three works by Ildikó Enyedi, My Twentieth Century (Az én XX. századom,1989), On Body and Soul (Testről és lélekről, 2017) and The Story of My Wife (Feleségem története, 2021) – whereby the latter was presented together with films by Gaspar Noé and Alexandru Solomon in a special programme dedicated to contemporary classics.

In the international competition was László Csuja-Anna Nemes’ Gentle (Szelíd, 2022), which originally premiered at Sundance and whose amateur protagonist, the bodybuilding champion Eszter Csonka, beat the professionals to take home the prize for Best Actress. Furthermore, the TIFF is also an important domestic showcase, with twelve new domestic productions competing. Viewers of the series, including the jurors of FIPRESCI, were waiting to find out if the great march of modern Romanian cinema would continue, and whether new talents would follow in the footsteps of Puiu, Mungiu, Jude, Porumboiu and others. There is no doubt that the Romanian New Wave was one of the most promising film troupes of recent decades, winning festival prizes time and time again, and deservedly so. The secret was probably that they produced simple, realistic works on a small budget, free of the megalomania that fuels today’s cinema and that is driving it into a long-overdue artistic crisis. They were probably not seduced by the siren call of big-budget national productions because the cinematic ‘national’ nightmares of the Ceausescu era are still an antidote. Most of the more recent Romanian films are simple, low-budget, realistic works, creatively using the formal innovations of the previous generation: long takes, natural locations, flexible hand-held camera, sensitive acting. The recent past, the Ceausescu dictatorship, remains a popular theme, but its repeated evocation, after the masterpieces of Mungiu and Porumboiu, seems an afterthought, targeting the big festivals that are always grateful for it.

The Romanian entry in the Cannes Un Certain Regard competition, Alexandru Belc’s Metronom (Metronom, 2022) tells the story of the blackmail and recruitment of high school students. It is not a bad piece of work, but a pale re-enactment of the successes on similar themes. There’s more of an aftermath in Ligia Ciornei’s The Lost Year 1986 (Anuil Pierdut 1986, 2022), which, like Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile, 2007), tells the story of a forbidden abortion. Fresher and more poignant than these two is Sebastian Mihalescu’s documentary, You Are Ceausescu To Me (Pentru mine tu esti Ceausescu, 2021). Teenage youths are cast as the “genius of the Carpathians”, reflecting the history of their fathers and grandfathers through the eyes of the present generation. The younger talented feature filmmakers are mostly turning to contemporary themes. Emanuel Parvu’s Marocco (Mikado, 2021) has nothing to do with the African country, but with the game of the same name, and the dramaturgy follows the rules of that game. An insignificant event slowly turns everything upside down, like the chopsticks of the popular game collapsing with a single wrong move. This avalanche dramaturgy is not unfamiliar to Romanian cinema: it has been the basis of such important works as Radu Jude’s Everybody in Our Family (Toata lumea din familia noastra, 2012) and Adrian Sitaru’s Best Intentions (Din dragoste cu cele mai bune intentii, 2011), and it is also the basis of both Oscar-winning films by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi: A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) and The Salesman (Forushande, 2016)

It is interesting to note that two of the most promising directors of the new generation are women, addressing female subjects. Alina Grigore’s Blue Moon (Crai nou, 2021) tells the story of a young girl living and working on a family farm, who wants to study in the city, with distracted-excited cuts and fragmented dramaturgy. In contrast, the winner of this year’s FIPRESCI prize, Immaculate (Imaculat, 2021) by Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark, is a quiet work of pastel colours and close-ups about a girl in a drug rehab. The former won the top prize at the San Sebastian Festival, the latter got two prizes in Venice. Both of these brilliant young female directors are debut filmmakers – continuing a string of successes in Romanian cinema that has so far been exclusively attributed to men.

György Báron
Edited by Pamela Jahn