Posts Tagged ‘Romanian Arthouse’

A Decent Man | Un Om La Locul Lui (2018) *** | Bergamo Film Meeting

Dir.: Hadrian Marcu; Cast: Madalina Constantin, Bogdan Dumitrache, Arda Gales; Romania 2018,93 min.

Hadrian Marcu’s debut feature sees a man very much out of his depth emotionally when it comes to women, and especially the two women in his life. Somehow this guy finds himself in an impossible situation and retreats into the background, hoping that the women take charge. Marcu cleverly shows how  professional women often end up drawing the short straw in their emotional choices.

Based on a novel by Petru Cimpuescu, this is a classic example of how men can be highly competent in the workplace but fall apart when it comes to their private lives. And the main character does just that. And this being Romania it’s unlikely to end well. Petru, an engineer, has got involved with two women: Laura (Gales) is a doctor and pregnant with his child, and Sonia (Constantin) is the wife of his colleague who dies when the car they are travelling in goes off the road, in the film’s early scenes. Feeling stressed out and guilty Petru puts Sonia first. Soon enough, nurses in the hospital inform Laura of Petru’s infidelity, and she throws him out of her flat. Clueless and adrift, Petru hides behind Sonja, hoping for the best.

This is a very confident debut by Marcu, who never lets the action get out of hand, avoiding sentimentality as well as histrionic scenes. Dumitrache is ideal for the role of the rather hesitant Petru, who cannot do right for doing wrong. Yes, he is decent, but his emotional intelligence is limited, he wants to have his cake and eat it. When confronted by Laura, he is like a little boy who wants the teacher to let him off failing his exam. The genders seem to live a very segregated life in contemporary Romania: Petru enjoys the company of co-workers, but when he is with Laura or Sonja, or even his mother, he becomes emasculated and insecure, avoiding conflict. keeping the women apart, compartmentalising their existence, living a double life, which crashes down, when Laura learns the truth. But he has still not learnt from his mistakes, and hopes that the decision will be made for him.

DoP Adrian Silisteanu uses a handheld camera for intimate effect, keeping close to the protagonists. Even their homes tell the storyline: Petru lives in a mess; whilst Laura is a proper homemaker – even though her work is as challenging as his is. Overall, it seems Marcu has re-invented the sub-genre of male malaise, but his careful detailing and string construction of the narrative arc marks him out to be a filmaker with a future. AS



I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018)*** Winner | Karlovy Vary 2018

Writer/Dir: Radu Jude | Cast: Ioanna Iacob, Alex Bogdan, Alexandru Dabija, Lon Razia| Drama | Romania | 140′

After his contemplative paean to Romania’s lost Jews (Dead Nation), and Berlinale winner Aferim!, a drama exploring life in 19th century Jewish settlements, Radu Jude is back with another playfully bolshy and bruising indictment of ethnic cleansing, this time concerning the events leading up to the Holocaust.

Romania was as a Nazi ally – along with several other European countries – and it’s a subject that is close to his heart, and one that has divided his homeland. The film’s title refers to the words spoken by the Council of Ministers in the Summer of 1941 that announced another episode of genocide, this time on the Eastern Front. History always repeats itself and Radu Jude choses to depict this tragic era with a dark and spiky farcical doc-drama that recreates the tragic events on the Eastern Front preceding the Holocaust 

Set in contemporary Romania this experimental film within a film takes the form of a theatre production incorporating archive footage, lengthy critical diatribes Godard style, all driven forward by the feisty character of Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob in her debut). This is a comprehensive and ambitious piece of meta-filmmaking but its sprawling verbosity and indulgent running time makes it sometimes heavy going.  

We first meet Mariana in the grounds of Bucharest’s National Military Museum as she is preparing to stage her outdoor theatrical extravaganza based on the tragic events of Autumn1941 when Romanian troops joined Nazi forces to wipe out some 30,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The military dictator Ion Antonescu had sanctioned the routing before going over to the German side in 1944. In the event roughly 400,000 Jews, Roma gypsies and other ethnic minorities were massacred. 

As in many other European countries, antisemitism is still rife even today and this sentiment is echoed during Mariana’s rehearsals when some of the non-professional extras voice their concerns about acting alongside Roma gypsies and even challenge her version of events as proceedings almost turn into a bun fight. Meanwhile, Mariana’s complex love life with her married airline pilot Stefan (Serban Pavlu) is threatening to cause 

Also taking part in the production is Romanian theatre veteran Alexandru Dabija (Afterim!) who plays Movie and tries throughout to pacify the public by appealing to Mariana to adopt a less controversial take on the Odessa massacre, namely one that doesn’t offend Romania’s wartime heroes. Sparks fly as the two engage in a dialogue that pays homage to Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Steven Spielberg,  Leni Riefenstahl et al in lively scenes captured by handheld cameras accompanied by an ambient score. Not an easy film to engage with but a worthwhile effort to bring these controversial events to the public domain. However, with its 140 minute running time this is a docudrama that may prove commercially unviable for most arthouse cinemas and will likely find its viewers on home entertainment front MT


Lemonade * * * * (2018) | Berlinale 2018 | Panorama

Dir: Ioana Uricaru | Cast:  Mălina Manovici, Steve Bacic, Dylan Scott Smith, Milan Hurduc, Ruxandra Maniu | Romania, Canada, Germany | Drama | 88 min

Ioana Uricaru directs this absorbing immigration truth-based drama from a linear script she co-wrote with Tatiana Ionascu and with the support of Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu and Canadian finance. Exposing the often ugly corrupt and officious underbelly of US officialdom, it follows Mara, a nurse from Romania, who marries one of her patients (Daniel/Dylan Smith) while on a working visit the USA, and tries make her new life with her husband 3 year old son legal and above board. With a sensitive central performance from Mălina Manovici whose winning personality as Mara makes for an absorbing watch, this intelligent film conflates a New Wave drama with a taut psycho-thriller, managing its tonal shifts with surprising dexterity.

When the police ask Mara if Romanian is an Arabic language, you realise the depth of ignorance we are dealing with is ludicrous. But this is not the worse part: Mara’s aggressively inappropriate immigration official (a sleazy Steve Bacic from TV’s Arrow) asks her for a blow-job; and during a hospital visit, she is give an injection without her consent  “because it’s free”. Yet the arm of the law comes down heavily when she leaves Dragoš alone in the appartment. It then emerges that her husband Daniel has a ‘criminal record’ from abusing a minor. Despite all this Mara presses on obdurately remembering the Romanian saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. Luminously lensed by Friede Clausz, this is a well-paced debut that doesn’t overstay its welcome, from a talented female team. MT


Aferim! (2015) | Berlinale 2015| SILVER BEAR | DVD BLU

Director: Radu Jude
Writer: Radu Jude, Florin Lazarescu
Cast: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, Cuzin Toma

Romania / Bulgaria / Czech Republic Historical Drama 108 min

MIDNIGHT RUN meets THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADAS ESTRADA in Radu Jude’s third feature AFERIM!—an unlikely pairing by which to describe a road movie set in 1830s Romania. From its opening credits sequence (lively music and foregrounded cacti) to its crisply shot rural vistas, though, there’s more than a touch of the western about this talky and occasionally very funny film, which bowed in competition this week at the Berlin Film Festival.

While a Ford or a Hawks may have felt compelled to have their protagonist transcend the moral restrictions of his time, Jude doesn’t afford his central figure such a luxury. Gendarme Costadin (Teodor Corban) is employed by a local boyor (high ranking aristocrat) to hunt down Carfin (Cuzin Toma), a gypsy who has run away following accusations of an affair with his owner’s wife. Accompanied by his son and protégé Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), Costadin travels on horseback across the racial hotbed of feudalist Wallachia in search of his bounty, encountering various people of impoverished or inferior stations—gypsies and women chief among them.

Women and gypsies get the brunt of it in Jude and fellow writer Florin Lazarescu’s script (which, as a long list of historical texts indicates at the very end of the film, in addition to the beautiful production design and costume design by Augustina Stanciu and Dana Paparuz respectively, is the work of impressive research). Costadin refers to one woman he comes upon early in the film as a hag. Others are referred to as crows and filthy whores. Not that our protagonist is especially tyrannical. Though he claims to be “as harsh as a hot pepper, born of Father Garlic and Mother Onion”, Costadin goes about his daily routine with palpable ambivalence, making ends meet with an unquestioning deference for the prevailing status quo while admitting, in those moments of downtime he enjoys with Ionita, that “this is a dog’s life: we sweat like beasts for a piece of bread.” Later, a chemistry almost forms between the policeman and his quarry, as Costadin agrees to put a word in for Carfin upon returning him to his master—though he doesn’t quite extend such sympathy enough to free him, upon Ionita’s suggestion.

The casual, accepted misogyny that pervades the film is exemplified best by the puppet show that Costadin observes among many other onlookers, in which a male marionette beats his wife to death. Young viewers begin to inspect the motionless puppet, convinced that it’s real. Up to this point, the film has been free of explicit violence, though the darker impulses revealed in dialogue (“gypsies: are they people, or Satan’s spawn?”) prepare us for an outcome that denies a happy resolution. True to recent traditions in Romanian cinema, AFERIM! is an effectively frustrating look at how the unequal power relations of any historical period absurdly go unchallenged by those who benefit from them most.

“This world will stay on as it is,” Costadin tells his son. “You can’t change it, try as you might.” But we know different. Though inequalities still exist, the situation in Eastern Europe has changed dramatically. While it’s refreshing to see a Romanian director turning to a more remote point in his nation’s history (as opposed to, say, its search for a post-communist identity), the film speaks to the present juncture—not least of all in its authentic depiction of how gypsies were treated in the 1830s. Just as the movement for freeing gypsies (then regarded as slaves) began to gather momentum in the mid-19th century—resulting finally in the 1856 bill declaring their emancipation—we find much solace in the systematic changes that have unfolded since, and in those that are still to come. MICHAEL PATTISON


Beyond the Hills (2012)**** Dupa Dealuri

Director Christian Mungiu

Cast: Cosima Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta

150mins     Drama     Romanian with subtitles

A great hit at Cannes, this is a disturbing and melodramatic tale of sexual politics and grinding poverty overlaid with religious pomposity and centres on the masterful central performances from Cristina Flutur (Alina) and Cosima Stratan (Volchita) who best won Best Actress this year at the festival.  Purportedly based on real events that took place only recently in Romania’s Tanacu monastery, it has all the trappings of a medieval horror story rather than one based in 21st century Europe. The two girls are reunited in the monastery, where Volchita has become a novice, after growing up together in an orphanage in Germany.

It difficult to tell whether they are in love but there is certainly an emotional and physical closeness at work and Alina uses bond to persuade Volchita to follow her back to Germany to a life in the secular world away from the path she’s chosen as a submissive bride of Chris.  In doing so, Alina comes across as a subversive and manipulative character in contrast to Volchita’s gentle and accepting personality. Alina sees these positive traits as evidence of a lack of strength and self reliance which causes Volchita to question her own beliefs and motives with tragic consequences for all concerned.

Christian Mingui’s intimate portrait of the mysterious yet brutal sisterhood of the monastery is beautifully shot and superbly crafted and yet hard-going with its menacing overtones, in much the same way as his last Palme D’Or win, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007) was, although more visually alluring with scenic shots of the Romanian countryside and stunning interiors. MT






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