The repressive regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu stopped the development of the Romanian cinema for many long years. When Romania regained its independence, the cinematography of this country located on the Danube River started to awaken from a long-time sleep. After Cannes IFF in 2010, the following was quoted to have been said about the Romanian cinema: “The Romanians are unable to produce a bad film. It seems to be illegal in their country. Well, at least it is not in their genes.” Today everybody knows that we should keep an eye on the “Count Dracula” of the European cinema, to put it half jokingly.
Cinema — the seventh art — reached Bucharest, directly after it had been established. The films made by the Lumiere brothers were shown in the country’s capital, as early as in 1896, while the first Romanian film in history was made in 1912. Many interesting films had been produced in Romania, before the First World War broke out, and they soon became classics. In the post-war period, the Romanian film industry was under the heavy influence of Communist rule, and artistic creativity was hindered by censorship and propaganda.
More than 50 years ago, Scurta istorie (A Short Story, 1956), a short film directed by Ion Popescu Gopo, won the Golden Palm for the Best Short Film, at Cannes IFF. This was the first and only Romanian film that was recognised internationally, until 2004. Many years have passed, before the world took an interest in the cinematography of this country, located in South-east Europe. The only exception was films made by the controversial director Lucian Pintilie. The screening of Reconstituirea (Re-enactment, 1968) was banned by the Romanian authorities. The author of the film was forced to emigrate to France.
In the time of the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian film industry was nationalised, and for that reason only propaganda- and socialist-oriented films, that presented the myth of a happy workers’ society, were sponsored by the state. Since the bloody revolution of 1989, the new generation of Romanian directors pointed their cameras on the Ceaușescu era, making films that presented the fate of people under the Communist rule, and manifesting post-Communist traumas. In the early 1990s, Eugenia Voda, a Romanian film critic, wrote: “The Romanian cinema must start anew. It must present our everyday life and demonstrate the true nature of this important moment in contemporary history, which has been so terribly falsified until now”.
The New Wave of Romanian Cinema has been gaining international recognition over the past decade for its authenticity and original style. The birth of a new movement was announced, when Cristian Mungiu, 39, a previously unknown director from Bucharest, was awarded a Golden Palm in Cannes for his social drama 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days. The film commented on one of the most difficult subjects in the contemporary history of Romania, which was the ban on abortion and contraceptives. In 2005, critics around the world were enraptured with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Christi Puiu – it was a shocking story about the dying of an old man, who would not be admitted by any hospital. A year later, Corneliu Porumboiu was awarded a Golden Camera at Cannes IFF for his 12:08 East of Bucharest, which was a satire on the East European attitude to history. In 2010, Florin Serban debuted with If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, a powerful psychological drama, set in a community home, for which he was awarded a Silver Bear at Berlinale IFF. The film was nominated for Academy Awards, in the Best Non-English Film category. The Happiest Girl in the World by Radu Jude and Tuesday, After Christmas by Radu Munteanu were also among the films that gained recognition. Both films show today’s Romania: people, whose dreams clash with reality.
Recently, Romanian directors have been focusing their interest on social changes that followed after the political transformation, such as Child’s Pose by Calin Peter Netzer, which won the Golden Bear for the Best Film at this year’s Berlinale IFF. According to the director’s own words: “This film has a soul. The frames are very narrow, which makes the audience part of the action. Contrary to the majority of Romanian films, we do not have to admire it, as if it was a painting, but we can get closer to its heroes, their actions, and moods.” And it is realism and black humour that we so often find in all the films that belong to this new wave. The Romanians tell their stories, as if they could actually happen in reality, and they like to position their heroes in critical situations. Beyond the Hills, a drama by Cristian Mungiu, about the tragic death of a young woman, who died after a cruel 3-day exorcism, was awarded a prize for its screenplay, at Cannes IFF, in 2012. The following can be considered interesting, among the recent Romanian films: Rocker by Marian Crişan, Best Intentions by Adrian Sitaru, Of Snails and Men by Tudor Giurgiu, and Everybody in Our Family, another film by Radu Jude.
Alin Tasciyan, vice-president of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), claims that the recognition received by the Romanian cinema is not just a temporary trend. The film industry is based on a strong culture, which is built by strong personalities: “I believe that this is only the beginning, merely a rebellion, but not yet a revolution. It is just a matter of time and money, and soon the Romanian cinema will flourish and show all of its qualities.” Jerzy Płażewski, a Polish film critic, seems to agree with that point of view: “It will simply be impossible to ignore Romanian cinematography, even in the shortest of stories that will be written about the international cinema.”