From the hipsters of Williamsburg in Brooklyn to the cinephiles of France, Romanian cinema is developing a global cult-like following that in 2010 should make Romania famous for something far more meaningful than Dracula, Ceaucescu and Nadia Comaneci.
The so-called “New Wave” Romanian cinema is producing film-lovers’ films. They tell stark, lonely stories of micro-human-scale dramas, in impressive defiance of all the mega trends and commercial might of the global film industry, which tends to favour big stories, grand, sweeping tales of heroes, wars and disasters and the great processes of history.
A few years ago the sudden and substantial international success of a group of Romanian filmmakers in their thirties generated buzz about a “New Wave” of Romanian cinema. The filmmakers themselves say this term is a myth; their styles vary, and they represent little more than a coincidence of talent that has created a momentum of its own. They simply want to tell human-sized stories about the communist past – rather than the political stories about the communist system that western viewers tend to find so fascinating.
But despite the 2007 Palm d’Or awarded to Cristian Mungiu at Cannes for Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (pretty much the most prestigious thing that can happen to a film) and its growing international reputation, the Romanian film industry is not well. Cinemas are closing and internet piracy is the norm for Romanian film-watchers. The national film body that disperses tax revenues top filmmakers did not fund a single production in 2009 because it is reworking its procedures following widespread complaints about corruption and nepotism.
However, 2010 should be a decisive year for the Romanian film industry. When the government-appointed film body finally goes to work, it will have two years of funding to disperse – hopefully for worthy filmmakers and not those of cronies. It should also have professional guidelines to direct resources toward quality projects. Highlights of the year will also include the long anticipated release of Aurora by Cristi Puiu, the first film he has directed since his 2005 The Death of Mr Lazarescu, which first generated international attention for Romanian film.
The task, however, for Romania is not simply to find more money – Romania needs to understand that the world values Romanian film. “The government should realise that film is the Romanian product that creates the best image for the country internationally,” says Ioana Uricaru, co-director of Tales from the Golden Age, which has been opening in theatres in European countries this autumn and winter. She says there is a lot the government can do – finding investors for local cinemas for example, as there are many big Romanian cities without a single big screen.
“I hope Romania will start to appreciate Romanian cinema more,” says Uricaru, noting that Radu Mihaileanu’s The Concert sold more than a million tickets in France – and only a few thousand in his native Romania. The hope is that 2010 will see more risky and brilliant Romanian movies being made to keep that prestige flowing.