The influence on today’s generation of Romanian filmmakers of local auteur Lucian Pintilie, who died earlier this month, is so profound it’s difficult to chart. But, Transilvania Film Festival chief and leading Romanian filmmaker Tudor Giurgiu says, his legacy will be felt for many years, and a tribute is planned for the event’s closing ceremony.
“I was his 1st AD [first assistant director] in 1995 when working on ‘Too Late,’ which was screened in 1996 Cannes main competition,” Giurgiu recalls. “I learned everything from him – it was like attending a second film school.”
Pintilie’s first feature, “Sunday at 6 O’Clock,” a tragedy about two young communist lovers on the run in World War II, won him international attention in 1966.
Because of the director’s extensive background in theater, Giurgiu says, “Pintilie was an absolute master when working with actors. It was mesmerizing to observe how he achieved impressive performances by forcing them to go further and further, asking them to forget the theater background and pushing them into uncomfortable territories.”
Pintilie was known not just for eliciting remarkable performances during his years in Romania with the Bulandra Theater and later in France, but also for bold innovations in his stage work, often discovering new relevance in the plays of Anton Chekhov – at one point restoring a scene the seminal Russian playwright had cut.
Giurgiu calls 1968’s “Reenactment,” in which a communist official allows two men arrested for fighting to avoid their punishment by reenacting the fight in front of cameras for educational purposes “possibly the most important Romanian film ever.”
The film was certainly important enough to Nicolae Ceausescu, who felt it made his regime look ridiculous. The film was censored and not screened again publicly until after the overthrow and assassination of the dictator in 1989.
But Pintilie’s power was not limited to sending up tyrannical government, Giurgiu adds. Speaking about the director’s 1992 film “The Oak,” he says, “I was in shock after seeing the film and observing Pintilie’s take on tackling reality and portraying life in both a poor industrial area of the country and in a wealthy family, with communist roots. It is without any doubt that Pintilie was a strong inspiration for New Wave filmmakers. He was one of the unique voices of the Romanian cinema who was not making any artistic or ideological compromises. He was radical and edgy.”
Transilvania fest artistic director Mihai Chirilov, who is also a top Romanian film critic, agrees that Pintilie, whom the fest has feted more than once, was a rich source of inspiration for later generations.
“When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, director Corneliu Porumboiu answered: Lucian Pintilie,” Chirilov says. Director Cristi Puiu, who is credited with the rebirth of Romanian cinema, insisted that without Pintilie “the New Wave would have never existed.”
Chirilov calls Pintilie “a brilliant artist of immense irony who went from film to theater with the same elegance with which he combined acute social observation and visual poetry in his work. Always angry, cynical, subversive, and never willing to compromise, either politically or artistically, Pintilie cut to the bone and dismissed the numb, cosmetic version of reality as tailored by the authorities, revealing it in its stark, sometimes grotesque nudity.”
That spirit lives on, Chirilov says. “After all, this is what the best of the New Wave films did.”
He adds that he feels “most grateful” for his chance to help curate Pintilie’s first and last full retrospective, both in Romania at TIFF and in the U.S. at MOMA in New York. Chirilov has also helped compile a definitive DVD box set of Pintilie’s work with English subtitles.
For now only available in Romania, it contains all 10 of his feature films and his short “Tertium Non Datur,” the director’s last work from 2006.