If there has been one movement in film over the last ten years which has intrigued me most, it has been the Romanian New Wave. From about 2005 onwards, Romanian cinema has encountered something of a renaissance, with films winning numerous awards at several high profile film festivals, including awards for five films at Cannes in only 4 years.
Romania is not a country which I had associated with good quality cinema. The country only produces around 4-5 features every year and the average spend by a Romanian on cinema-going in 2006 was only 4 cents, one of the lowest figures in the world (see reference below). These statistics makes the international success of Romanian cinema all the more impressive.
Some critics have debated whether there is a unifying theme to these Romanian films but for me there is obviously one theme which has heavily influenced all of the recent Romanian films: the fall of communism in the country following the death of Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Some films, such as 12.08 East of Bucharest, deal with the immediate aftermath of the death of Ceausescu, whilst others, such as The Death of Mr Lazarescu, focus on the longer term struggles of a country trying to make the change from communism to a free market economy. For me, this is enough of a unifying theme to give Romanian cinema a national identity and I therefore think it is justified to refer to the emergence of Romanian Cinema as a New Wave.
To date, I managed to indulge in the 4 Romanian films which were award winners at the Cannes film festival and there are several more on my list which I would like to see. None of these films feature in the IMDB Top 250 but for me there is one, possibly two, which should feature in the list. So without further ado, the four films are:
The Death of Mr Lazarescu – Cristi Puiu
The film that kicked off the Romanian New Wave, The Death of Mr Lazarescu is a deadpan black comedy about a dying man’s journey through the Romanian healthcare system. At times harrowing, it is remarkable that this film can simultaneously provide moments of genuine humour and genuine sadness.
Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes and numerous other international awards, this is a film which deeply moved me. If I have one criticism of the film, it is its length. At two hours and thirty minutes the running time is excessive and as a result the film is slow in parts – particularly the opening hour. But if you stick with it through until the end , you will be rewarded with a fine film which will open your eyes to the deficiencies in parts of Romanian society.
The film currently has a rating of 7.8 on IMDB and it is therefore not far from making the Top 250 list. For me, if the film had been edited more thoroughly and given a shorter running time, this would definitely have made my list. It may still creep in near the bottom of my Top 250 list but regardless of whether it does or doesn’t, this is still a film which I would recommend to those who wish to broaden their international cinema horizons.
12.08 East of Bucharest - Corneliu Porumboiu
A black comedy about a TV talk show programme which tries to decide whether there was a revolution in one small town at the time of Ceausescu’s death, or whether the revolution seen in other parts of the country was absent. The second major film of the Romanian New Wave and winner of the Camera D’Or at Cannes, 12.08 East of Bucharest underwhelmed me slightly.
The film appears to be influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (which is not a criticism given the profound impact Kurosawa has had on all aspects of modern cinema) in that the film is about the different versions of the same story told by different people, but whilst Rashomon told its story through Flashback, 12.08 East of Bucharest simply has people telling their story to each other.
This was not a particularly great film for me.
California Dreamin – Cristian Nemesu
California Dreamin tells true story of a Nato convoy which is trying to deliver an American radar system by rail to war torn Kosovo in 1999. The convoy gets held up at a border post in Romania for four days by a corrupt border official, even though it has been authorised to pass by the Romanian Prime Minister.
Tragically unfinished due to the death of director Cristian Nemescu in a car crash, California Dreamin feels as though it is unfinished work. All the signs of an excellent film are present here - good acting, moments of excellent black comedy and an interesting storyline which ultimately turns into a tragedy – however at 155 minutes, the running time is overlong. Had Nemescu survived to finish his film, I have no doubt he would have cut out a lot more of the padding in the film, but as it currently stands, this is a film which has lots of potential but ultimately fails to deliver.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – Cristian Mungiu
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Romanian New Wave, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an outstanding film which looks at the issue of illegal abortion. A deserving winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes and tragically overlooked for the Oscar for best foreign language film, this is a film which I rate extremely highly.
The film is minimalist in nature and is an excellent example of fine social realist cinema – I for one was enthralled by the purity of the storytelling and the honesty with which this film tells its harrowing story. This is not a film for the weak-hearted. It shows some genuinely distressing imaging on the screen which all add to the hard hitting impact of the film.
Rated 7.9 on IMDB, the film is just outside the IMDB Top 250, however I suspect that if more people had the opportunity to view this magnificent film it would be rated much higher. Personally, this was one of the top 5 films of the noughties for me and would certainly find its way into my personal Top 250 and would likely make it into my top 50, if not higher. This is a film which I cannot recommend more highly and is certainly a criminal omission from the IMDB Top 250.