Although I like to think I’m beginning to understand Romania and the spirit of Romanians, I realize there is always much more to learn. One excellent way to learn more about Romanian culture is by watching films. As is true for any country, you can’t really understand Romania without getting to grips with its history.
Now I know I normally write about Romania’s sunny side mostly, but it also has a decidedly gloomy side. It may not be what the average tourist is looking for, but if you want to gain a deeper understanding of Romanian society it is necessary to scratch the surface. Although admittedly, a lot of the influence of the country’s recent past is really very much on the surface. It is still licking its communist sores. Films are one way to deal with these wounds, and they provide insight into this past for outsiders and insiders alike.
Last year I discovered a surprisingly easy way to access loads of Romanian films: Cinepub. Cinepub is a project that aims to bring Romanian films to a broader audience. It is an online platform that offers free and legal streaming of Romanian films – feature films, short films, animation, documentary and more. I’ve selected a few films that I really enjoyed watching and, not unimportantly, have English subtitles. You will notice when watching that all of these are realist, minimalist films; this is characteristic of the Romanian New Wave genre – and, I think, of present-day Romanian society: there is little room for pretense.
The Death of Mr Lăzărescu
Moartea Domnului Lăzărescu is can be categorized as comedy – but a distinctively Romanian brand of comedy. Which means that it will leave a bitter aftertaste. The history of the death of Mr Lăzărescu is both amusing and bemusing: a very sick Romanian gentleman is carried from one hospital to another, after initial scepticism about his condition; he dies before he gets the help he so desperately needs. I know, spoiler – but this is not what the film is about. It gives you insight in the dramatic ways Romanian bureaucracy can go wrong, and shows how lethal indifference can be – and will give you an inkling of the frustration the average Romanian has to live with.
Director: Cristi Puiu | Year: 2005 | Duration: 153 mins
E Pericoloso Sporgersi
The title of this film is Italian for ‘It is dangerous to lean out of the window’ – which is exactly what you see one of the protagonists doing in the opening shot. Set towards the end of the communist era (late eighties, I think), this comedy tells the same story three times over: through the eyes of a girl studying at a lyceum, a boy soldier doing his obligatory military service, and a bored actor. Together they form a love triangle: the soldier is after the girl (‘How about it if I show you my records tonight?’), the girl is infatuated with the actor, and the adventure and freedom she thinks he represents. He doesn’t – he confesses his actor life bores him to death; the girl encourages him to jump the border. This film is a light-hearted portrait of a complicated period in Romanian history.
Director: Nae Caranfil | Year: 1993 | Duration: 104 mins
Nunța Muta, or Silent Wedding, is another dark comedy, but goes further back in time – and is about a wedding in the 1950s. Two young people are getting married, but authorities have declared that on this particular night there can be no celebrations of any kind: Stalin has died, so seven days of national mourning are announced. So if they are to go on with the wedding it will have to be silent – which is complicated, especially if you consider the exuberance with which Romanians usually celebrate.
Director: Horațiu Mălăele | Year: 2008 | Duration: 87 mins
Domestic does what it says on the tin: it gives you insight into the daily life of ordinary Romanians. It follows the lives of several households in a block of flats, of the type you come across a lot if you spend some time on the outskirts of a Romanian city. It goes from whimsical to grim – a boy books a small victory when he is allowed to keep a pigeon – a girl kills a rabbit and then later on gets killed herself. The relationship between animals and people plays a central role – although perhaps more accurately, the animals that are brought onto the scene trigger behaviour that gives you insight into how Romanians communicate. For one thing, they argue a lot. In this film.
Director: Adrian Sitaru | Year: 2012 Duration: 85 mins
Needless to say, there is much more. Another film worth watching and that got its share of fame is 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; sadly it is no longer on the Cinepub website. This is just a selection of the films I have watched – do browse Cinepub’s collection to see if there’s anything else to your liking! If you are Romanian and reading this: I hope I haven’t tread on anyone’s toes, and that I have done Romanian cinema justice. 🙂
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