The pearls of a new generation
Mar 14th 2013 by L.C. | BUCHAREST
DURING Romania’s communist regime under Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian film industry was nationalised and film-makers were subsidised to create socialist films that portrayed a happy working-class society. Romania's citizens lived in a world where state propaganda praised a fake economic prosperity while people were forced to queue for hours to buy milk or meat. But the film industry peddled communist ideology. Since the bloody revolution in 1989 a new generation of directors has turned its lens on the Ceausescu era, making films that show how people really lived under the regime and the post-communist traumas that followed after democracy was installed.
This new wave of Romanian cinema has been gaining international recognition over the past decade for its authenticity and original style. Many of the first films portray daily life under communism, such as Cristian Mungiu’s “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days”. Other films, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest” or Catalin Mitulescu’s “How I Celebrated the End of the World” dramatise the 1989 revolution, when the regime collapsed and Ceausescu and his wife were executed. More recently, directors are focusing on Romanian society in transition, such as in “Child’s Pose”, directed by Calin Peter Netzer, which was awarded the Golden Bear for best film at last month’s Berlin International Film Festival.
In quasi-documentary style, “Child’s Pose” portrays a wealthy and domineering mother (played by the powerful actress Luminita Gheorghiu, pictured above) in her struggle to cover up her son’s responsibility for an accident that would send him to jail. This psychological drama offers an insight into Romania’s new bourgeoisie as corruption spreads through the country’s democratic institutions. Under communism, political affiliation bought influence but in the new democracy, money wields power. The film also addresses a universal theme—the relationship between children and their parents.
“This is a suffocating movie”, says Mr Netzer, “most of the frames are tight and you are a spectator who is taking part in the action. Unlike the majority of Romanian movies, you don’t watch it like you would admire a painting, but you get close to the characters, their actions and moods.” The intense realism and black humour in this film are themes found across the new wave.
Bogdan Dumitrache (pictured below), a 35-year-old actor who plays the role of the son, experienced both communism during his childhood and also the freedom and the economic development that followed after the revolution. “I think my generation has mixed feelings towards communism”, he says. “On one hand, we feel nostalgic because those were the days of our childhood, but on the other hand, we feel repulsion because we know our parents’ stories. We were too young to actually live those times but we feel the need to pass on the stories that affected our close ones.”
However, passing on these stories is proving difficult due to funding problems. Currently, film-makers can apply for 50% of production costs as a grant which must be repaid within 10 years from the National Center of Cinematography (CNC). Grants should be awarded in a twice-yearly competition, in accordance with Romania’s law of cinematography, but this is not always the case. Funding more often comes from the European Union or foreign investors.
The CNC, which has an annual budget of up to €7m ($9m), has been criticised by some in the Romanian film industry for its corruption, lack of transparency and bureaucratic obstacles. It is accused of favouring and financing particular directors—such as Sergiu Nicolaescu, a communist-era favourite—even though their films turned out to be failures in terms of audience and international recognition. Nicolaescu’s last film before he died earlier this year, “The Last Corrupted Man of Romania”, was a critical and financial flop. Eugen Serbanescu, the head of the CNC, told The Economist that the institution is not responsible for the outcome of the movies because the finance is strictly offered based on the scenarios submitted. Another obstacle to the growth of Romania’s cinema industry is that the country has the fewest cinemas in Europe. This lack of infrastructure prevents wide distribution and determines modest commercial profits at the box office.
Ada Solomon, the producer of “Child’s Pose”, which had a €800,000 budget, believes that politicians should pay more attention to the film industry because it has become an ambassador for the country. Ms Solomon believes there are multiple solutions for the problems the system is currently facing: she calls for a budgetary fund that Romanian directors could access, and a state aid scheme for potential investors in the industry. But these cannot be implemented without political will. The country’s cinema infrastructure should also be addressed, she says.
Alin Tasciyan, vice-president of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), claims that international recognition of the Romanian cinema is not a temporary trend because the industry is built on a strong culture by film-makers who have resilient personalities. “I believe this is just the beginning, only the revolt not the revolution itself, and it is only a matter of time and money for the Romanian cinema to flourish and expose all its colours.
However, if the political class will not turn its face to the Romanian cinema and establish solutions for the most urgent problems the industry faces, the country‘s talent might migrate towards the developed film industries in the Western world. This would be a great loss, not just for Romania’s cultural legacy but also for this new wave of directors, who seem to feel happiest at home rather than anywhere else.