For a movement that announced itself with a proverbial flatline, with Cristi Puiu’s dry, sardonic, darkly comic “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005), the Romanian New Wave is poised for a dramatic rebirth, in the opinion of Mihai Chirilov, Transilvania Intl. Film Festival’s artistic director.
More than a decade after Puiu took home the Un Certain Regard Award, and Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or in 2007 for his harrowing abortion drama, “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” Romanian cinema is on the brink of a “new New Wave.”
As the fest unspools its essential Romanian Days program, beginning on May 30, audiences are witnessing “first-time filmmakers that… are completely different than the aesthetic of the New Wave,” says Chirilov. Breaking from the muted palettes, flat compositions, and slow-burn realism of their predecessors, they’re bringing “a more than welcome freshness to what Romanian cinema is, and the idea of how Romanian cinema is perceived abroad.”
Headlining the program of 13 features and 22 shorts is “Touch Me Not,” Adina Pintilie’s bold, Golden Bear-winning exploration of intimacy, told in a genre-blurring style that blends fiction and documentary. The filmmaker’s debut in Berlin “took everyone by surprise,” says Chirilov, adding, “It’s something that hadn’t been seen in Romanian cinema ever before.”
Another stirring debut is Ivana Mladenovic’s “Soldiers. A Story from Ferentari,” which premiered in competition in San Sebastian. An unconventional love story about a queer couple in a marginalized Roma community in Bucharest, its daring exploration of gay love tackles “one of the most controversial topics in Romanian film,” says Chirilov.
Five of the 13 features in the Romanian Days competition are world premieres, including first-time director Bogdan Theodor Olteanu’s “Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl,” about two girls forced to question themselves at the start of a love affair, and actor Vlad Zamfirescu’s directorial debut “The Secret of Happiness,” a cynical comedy about the buried secrets and uncomfortable truths that emerge from a love triangle.
Director Paul Negoescu, whose low-budget sophomore feature, “Two Lottery Tickets,” became the surprise, top-grossing film of 2016, also returns to Transilvania with “The Story of a Summer Lover,” a comedy about a womanizing professor who’s forced to grow up when his girlfriend becomes pregnant.
Collectively these films represent a break from the recent past. “Ever since the Romanian New Wave popped up, many first-time filmmakers tried to employ the same technique, the same aesthetic. They knew deep down that this is the trend,” says Chirilov. “Most of the first-time works were pale copies of the great films of the Romanian New Wave… [but] not necessarily in tune with what the filmmakers wanted to make.” Copying the New Wave aesthetic, though, was “a sure ticket to an international film festival.”
Of the new generation, he says, “What you are sure about is they really believe in what they are doing.”
An encouraging trend is how Romanian films are playing to local audiences. Chirilov points to the success of Daniel Sandu’s “One Step Behind the Seraphim,” a coming-of-age story set in an Orthodox seminary, which surpassed box-office expectations while winning most of the top honors at this year’s Gopo Awards, the local equivalent of the Oscars. “The audience needs this type of film,” he says, pointing to a long-running debate in the Romanian industry about how to create a more populist national cinema.
Local filmmakers agree. “The Romanian New Wave was a beautiful and amazing thing. It had to happen. People finally discovered Romanian cinema,” says Andrei Cretulescu, whose off-beat black comedy, “Charleston,” which world premiered in Locarno last year, has its Romanian premiere May 30.
“But now is the right time to do different things. Now is the right time to explore new genres and new ways of making cinema,” he says. “We’re into a new stage, and I think that will benefit everybody.”
(Pictured: Ivana Mladenovic’s “Soldiers. A Story from Ferentari”)