ESFS Festival #7 Wrap-Up – “Romanian New Wave”

12.08.bucharestBy Mike Dub and Daniel Barnes

MD: Going into the festival, I was aware that Romanian New Wave was known for its very austere visual style. However, one of the very nice surprises of the festival has been that, even though each film commits to an aesthetic based on revealing life in its most “authentic” form – long takes, extremely lengthy scenes, a dedication to revealing life in almost real-time – all three films are compelling cinema. Even more fascinating, each film uses the same basic aesthetic rubric to create unique atmospheres: 12:08 East of Bucharest urges us into the agony of a real-time broadcast comedy of errors, underlying the unreliability of cultural memory; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days uses long takes to build tension and immerse us into an atmosphere of communist-era paranoia; and Tuesday, After Christmas folds us into the intimate details of lives in turmoil.

DB: If the films in this festival are any indication, that visual austerity you talked about is an extension of a larger cultural repression in Romania.  Ceausescu’s regime was marked by violent oppression and economic turmoil, and it was propped up by a brutal secret police force known as the Securitate.  Almost all of the main characters in these three films lived through the fear and reprisal of the Ceausescu era, where they learned to become terrified of their own honest feelings and expressions. In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (my favorite film of the festival, although on strictly “Romanian New Wave” terms, I still prefer the bleakly humane comedy of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), we are forced to directly contemplate the effects of this repression, as a comparatively bourgeois college student attempts to procure an illegal abortion for her roommate.  But in even in the absence of an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing dictator, that repression persists as an internal force.  We see it in the prolonged avoidance of conversation and confession in Tuesday, After Christmas, and in the false, vodka-soaked recollections of revolution in 12:08 East of Bucharest.

4months3weeksand2daysMD: Because these films are so rich and layered, it is difficult to give credit everywhere it is deserved. One of the things neither of us talked about very much is the wealth of on-screen talent in these three films. They are filled with terrific performances, ranging from Teodor Corban’s dopey and all-too-important television journalist Jderescu in Bucharest, to Mirela Oprisor, who captivates as the wronged Adriana in Tuesday, a performance that shoulders the weight of the film in the final act. But the two best performances occur in 4 Months, which I agree is the best film in the festival. Vlad Ivanov devours his role as a nefarious abortionist, who, as Daniel pointed out in his review, exemplifies “the banality of evil wrapped in a members-only jacket.” And lead actress Anamaria Marinca as Otilia, the persistently capable young woman caught in a web of conflicting loyalties and personal sacrifice, gives a striking and powerful performance of a woman who is outwardly calm but remains always on the brink of total collapse.

DB: And don’t forget Laura Vasiliu, who is wonderful as Gabita, the meek girl getting the abortion.  Gabita initially seems helpless, and you can understand Otilia’s urge to protect her, but Vasiliu slowly reveals thin layers of deception and guile in the character.  4 Months also features the amazing Luminita Gheorghiu in a small but brilliant turn as the woman whose birthday Otilia leaves the hotel to attend.  Gheorghiu has appeared in pretty much every “Romanian New Wave” film that has seen a stateside release – The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Beyond the Hills, Child’s Pose (reviewed here back in March), and even 12:08 East of Bucharest.  She did not make an appearance in Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas, so maybe it’s no surprise that it was the one film in the festival that failed to work for me.  I could not even describe Muntean’s direction as “visually austere,” because that would imply the presence of a guiding aesthetic – Muntean just plops the camera at a random middle distance and lets it roll.  In the other two films in the festival, you can feel stylistic expression pushing against the visual repression: the suddenly emphatic camera moves that match an emotional outburst in 4 Months, or the way that 12:08 East of Bucharest almost inches first into farce, and then into pathos.  But the intrusively bland Tuesday, After Christmas is the nearly once-in-a-lifetime occasion where I actually would have preferred to see a stage production of the material instead of the film.

imagesAnd that concludes the festival!  Time to kick back on the couch, crack open a bottle of Tuborg, rest our feet on this Ottoman suzerain, and rank and grade all the films we watched in the festival.  Noroc!

DUB’S RANKS/GRADES:

1) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (A-)

2) 12:08 East of Bucharest (B+)

3) Tuesday, After Christmas (B+)

DANIEL’S RANKS/GRADES:

1) 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (B+)

2) 12:08 East of Bucharest (B)

3) Tuesday, After Christmas (C+)