Even the most ardent supporter of Romanian cinema would concede that the nation’s film output, which averages about 15 features a year, adheres to a pretty dour aesthetic. The exception that proves the rule may be a film like Radu Muntean’s Boogie, a 2008 charmer about three men who wish themselves back to their high school days, but overall Romanian cinema reflects a society of artists still ruminating on the atrocities of recent regimes and the struggle of both its urban and rural population to cope with the commercial realities of the new Europe.
(Pictured, above; Radu Jude's Everybody in Our Family, 2012)
Like much of Europe, the new invention of the Lumiere Brothers premiered in Romania before the turn of the century. An employee of the French pair, Paul Menu, filmed the first footage on Romanian soil, a newsreel that captured King Carol 1 atop his steed and leading The Royal Parade in May, 1897. As the new medium became further established, young filmmakers emerged and the silent shorts began to accompany the newsreel footage. Also, filmed theatrical productions, such as Nicolae Barbelian’s Păpuşa (The Doll, 1911) and Victor Eftimiu’s Dragoste la mănăstire (Love in a Monastery, 1911), began to introduce audiences to cinematic storytelling techniques.
Considered many to be the first significant filmmaker to emerge from the birth of Romanian cinema was Grigore Brezeanu, whose short fictional films Amor fatal (Fatal Love Affair, 1911), Înşir'te mărgărite... (Spread Yourselves, Daisies, 1911) and the feature-length epic Independenţa României (The Independence of Romania, 1912; pictured, right) would be the country’s first major works of international standing. Only 20 when he directed Independenţa României, Brezeanu’s premature passing from typhoid in the post-World War 1 epidemic robbed a nation of an extraordinary talent. The financier of the film, Leon Popescu, was flushed with profits from its success and established the nation’s first production company, Film de artă Leon Popescu (Leon Popescu Art Film), resulting in a range of commercially-viable films that helped establish the Romanian film community - Amorul unei prinţese (The Love Affair of a Princess, 1913), Răzbunarea (Revenge, 1913), Urgia cerească (The Sky-borne Disaster, 1913), Cetatea Neamţului (The German's Citadel, 1914) and Spionul (The Spy, 1914). Aristide Demetriade directed two films of note - Oţelul răzbună (Steel Takes Its Revenge) and Scheci cu Jack Bill (Sketch with Jack Bill), both in 1913 – but the First World war would decimate the exhibition and film production sectors, rendering the industry inactive.
(Above: Scenes from Jean Mihail's 1924 drama, Păcat (Sin)
It was not until Jean Mihail returned to his homeland in the mid 1920’s that the industry would find the impetus to resurrect its film culture. He first came to prominence as co-director (with German Alfred Hallm) of Ţigăncuşa din iatac (The Little Gypsy Girl in the Bedroom, 1923), then helmed such significant works as Păcat (Sin, 1924), Manasse (Manasseh, 1925), Lia (1927) and Povara (The Burden, 1928). The resurgent industry fostered such talents as Ion Şahighian (Năbădăile Cleopatrei /Cleopatra's Caprices, 1925; Simfonia dragostei /The Symphony of Love, 1928), Ghiţă Popescu (Vitejii neamului /The Bravest of Our People, 1926; Năpasta /The Calamity, 1927) and Niculescu Brumă (Ecaterina Teodoroiu, 1929).
In 1930, the era of the talkie was launched in Romania, with German director Martin Berger adapting the culturally significant novel Ciuleandra in 1929. Most films being shot in Romania over this period were financed, wholly or in part, by visiting producers – it was not until Bing-Bang (1934), a vaudevillian-style collection of skits and musical numbers featuring a collection of the nation’s most popular performers, that a fully-Romanian feature would hit the screen. The beginning of the sound era was problematic for Romanian cinema. Foreign films, each one of higher production standards than the last, flooded the market and pushed true Romanian cinema into the background. Only 16 films were made in the country in the 1930’s.
To stop the decline in the cinema culture, the government established the New Cinema Fund in 1934. A percentage of all foreign film ticket sales would be channelled into the local industry, resulting in a steady flow of nationalistic films – Mihail’s documentary România (Romania, 1937); Şahighian’s O noapte de pomină (An Unforgettable Night, 1939); Paul Călinescu’s Venice-prizewinning documentary Ţara Moţilor (1938; pictured, right); Jean Georgescu’s O noapte furtunoasă (A Stormy Night, 1942) and Visul unei nopţi de iarnă (A Winter Night's Dream, 1944); and Cornel Dumitrescu’s Pădurea îndrăgostiţilor (The Lovers' Forest, 1946). Though the Second World War raged around them and many of the nation’s film technicians were forced to work on propaganda film projects, the passion of the filmmaking community kept Romanian cinema active in these years.
Following communist occupation in 1948, the Romanian film industry as the free-thinking creator of narrative, fictional films, all but ceased to exist. The people and resources that the National Film Fund had brought to prominence were now at the mercy of a ruling party that saw the film sector as the tool of the political body. Films espousing the communist dogma lead to a period of social realism in Romanian film – directors who would play influential roles in the decades to come, such as Manole Marcus (La mere, 1953), Geo Saizescu (Doi vecini, 1958), Iulian Mihu (Jocurile copilariei, 1955) and Gheorghe Vitanidis (Ciulinii Baraganului, 1958), emerged from this period. This was also the era of the great Romanian animator Ion Popescu-Gopo, who would produce 15 short works in 1955 and win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1957 for Scurtă istorie (A Short History).
(Above: Ion Popescu-Gopo's Scurtă istorie/A Short History, 1957)
Through the 1960’s, Romanian filmmakers, inspired by the New Wave mentality sweeping European cinema, began to slyly subvert the Communist doctrine. Mihai Iacob’s Darclee (1961), Lucian Bratu’s Tudor (1962), the legendary Lucien Pintilie’s Duminica la ora 6 (Sunday at Six, 1965), Cannes Best Director winner Liviu Ciulei’s Pădurea spânzuraţilor (Forest of the Hanged, 1964) and Mircea Mureşan’s Cannes-honoured debut Răscoala (1965) were all instrumental in a noticeable shift away from the state-sanctioned cinema of social realism and political message.
This revolutionary tone, however subtle, fuelled a passionate industry that blossomed in the 1970’s – a period that many refer to as Romanian cinema’s own New Wave. Out of the film school culture that had flourished in the 1960’s came directors that would represent Romanian cinema well into the 1980’s and in the final years of the Communist rule - Dan Pita (Nunta de piatra/The Stone Wedding, 1972; Bietul Ioanide/Poor Ioanide, 1979; Rochia alba de dantela /The White Lace Dress, 1989), Mircea Veroiu (Duhul aurului/Lust for Gold, 1974; Dincolo de pod/Beyond the Bridge, 1975; Sfarsitul noptii /The End of the Night, 1982) and Mircea Daneliuc (Cursa/The Long Drive, 1975; Croaziera / The Cruise, 1983; Glissando, 1985; Senatorul melcilor/The Snail’s Senator, 1995). There work led to a relative surge in production activity that saw 8 vital films released in the early 1990’s, among them acclaimed works by Bogdan Dumitrescu (Unde la soare e frig / Where The Sun Runs Cold, 1991; pictured, right), Florin Codre (Sobolanii rosii/The Red Rats, 1990), George Busecan (Pasaj, 1990) and Nae Caranfil (E pericoloso sporgersi/Don’t Lean Out of the Windows, 1993; Asfalt tango/Asphalt Tango, 1996; Filantropica/Philanthropy, 2002).
It took Romanian cinema 100 years but, in the 2000’s, the ‘Golden Age’ had arrived. This period also established the reputation that Romanian films have for their bleakness, though what now seems indicative of Romanian cinema was the point of difference a decade ago that made the film culture of the region stand out. After impacting the international festival circuit with Cristi Puiu’s Marfa si banii (Stuff and Dough, 2001), Cristian Mungiu's Occident (Accident, 2002) and Radu Muntean’s Furia (Fury, 2002), the global critical community rallied behind Puiu’s 2005 breakout hit, Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), earning the film the Un Certain Regard honour at Cannes and over 20 other international awards. Momentum was with Romanian cinema – Ruxandra Zenide’s Ryna (2005) enjoyed domestic and arthouse success and made a star of the stunning Doroteea Petre; in 2006, Corneliu Porumboiu’s A fost sau n-a fost (12:08 East of Bucharest) won Cannes’ Camera d’Or; in 2007, Cristian Nemescu's posthumous California Dreamin' won the prize in the Un Certain Regard section, while Christian Mungiu's abortion drama Patru luni, trei saptamâni si doua zile( 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; pictured, right) received the Palme d'Or. Other significant works from this time include the fresh output from Lucian Pintilie, including Afternoon of the Torturer (2001) and Niki and Flo (2003).
After a lean 2008, when domestic box office saw a dip in audience acceptance of Romanian films for the first time in many years, new works by Corneliu Porumboiu (Police Adjective, 2009) and Florin Şerban (Eu când vreau să fluier, fluier /If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, 2010) have scored big at home and abroad. Most recently, Calin Netzer’s Child's Pose (Pozitia copilului) took Golden Bear honours in Berlin while Romanian cinema welcomed the found-footage horror genre to its industry with Adrian Tofei’s Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, a brutal shocker that won Best Film at Sydney’s A Night of Horror Film Festival in 2015. Other notables include Cristi Piui's Cannes 2016 competition title, Sieranevada; Christian Mungui's Graduation (2016), Radu Jude's Aferim! (2015), and Alexabdra Belc's vital doco Cinema, Mon Amour (2016), which provides insight into the struggle of the independent cinema owner in modern Romania.
KINOFEST International Digital Film Festival – Bucharest, Romania; October.
The first digital film festival in Romania, Kinofest’s aim is to promote the film, music and vis-art of the region’s young film-makers. Festival director Valentin Partenie also hopes to cultivate interest in and promote the arts and media culture among the general public through independent film, video and new media making. Kinofest includes 3 competitions (Animation, Fiction, Micromovie), with 3 distinct juries. Expanding into a weeklong event in 2010, the 4th edition of Kinofest will enhance its film content programme and create more social-networking events (such as concerts, expositions and seminars)
Romanian Film Commission
Asociatia pentru Promovarea Filmului Romanesc
Popa Soare St 52 Et 1 Ap 4
Tel: (+40) 21 326 02 68
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