Sunday, November 9, 2008

The reign of Romanian reels

Nov. 9, 2008

Although Romania is not the first country you might think of when it comes to cutting-edge films, Romanian cinema is enjoying a renaissance, much like Israeli cinema has in recent years.

Despite the country's bleak economic situation, Romanian filmmakers have begun to tell their stories in a way that speaks to audiences all over the world, and you can see the best of their recent work at a retrospective of Romanian cinema at the Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv cinematheques this month.

These (mostly young) talented filmmakers and actors are looking back at the hypocrisy and corruption of Communist Romania and exploring the lack of direction in the post-communist era in ways that make for extraordinarily exciting and moving viewing.

A number of Romania's most celebrated directors and actors will be on hand to present their works. Among these guests are Cristian Mungiu, whose hard-hitting drama about a young woman getting an abortion during the end of the Ceausescu era, 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, was the surprise winner of the Palme d'Or, the highest honor at the Cannes Festival. It was the first time a Romanian director had ever won this honor (the film beat out movies by the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Emir Kusturica, among others), but it was only the most prominent of a slew of prizes Romanian films had started winning all over the world.

Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, about a dying man who takes a Kafkaesque journey through the Romanian health-care system, won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2005. In 2007, Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin', about a railway chief who delays a shipment of NATO military equipment, won this same prestigious award (tragically, Nemescu was killed in a car accident before it was released). Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest, the story of a television debate that irritates old wounds from the Ceausescu era, won the Camera d'Or Prize at Cannes for Best First Feature in 2006.

The Romanian festival here, which includes these films and 15 others - many of which were made in the past five years - kicks off on November 10 in the three cinematheques, although all feature different opening-night films.

IN JERUSALEM, the films are the short Humanitarian Aid, directed by Hanno Hofer, who will attend the screening of this look at Westerners trying to aid an isolated Romanian village. This short will be followed by Radu Muntean's Boogie, starring Anamaria Marinca, the actress who also stars in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Marinca will attend the screening of this film, which tells the story of a family on vacation who meet some old friends, which leads the husband to examine his dissatisfaction with his seemingly comfortable life.

Mungiu's 2002 film, Occident, about two homeless young women who dream of going to Western Europe, will open the festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

Director Elisabeta Bostan will attend the screening of her 1981 film, The Clowns, which will open Haifa's Romanian film festival. The movie looks at the hard life of a circus family at the beginning of the 20th century.

Director Mungiu and actress Marinca will also attend screenings of 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, an unforgettable movie that won awards all over the world in addition to its Cannes triumph (although, ironically, it was not nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, an omission that struck many as so grievous they called for a reform of the entire selection process).

Other festival guests include Dan Pita, the director of The Stone Wedding, a 1971 film based on classic tales of rural Romania; Iosif Demian (also known for his work as a cinematographer), who directed A Girl's Tear, a 1980 movie about an investigation into a drowning death; and film critic Cristina Corciovescu.

This festival will give Israeli audiences a chance to meet some of the most exciting young filmmakers anywhere in the world and to see their best work.

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