• Datum 16-01-2014
  • Auteur
  • Deel dit artikel

Illustratie Typex

More than a decade after the birth of the New Romanian Cinema, Romanian films are still seen as a prestigious product in the international festival circuit, a testimony to a blossoming low-budget cinema and a society reconciling its communist past and its yet-unsettled capitalist present. In terms of festival awards, 2013 was an excellent year: Child’s Pose (C?lin Netzer) earned a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival; director Tudor Jurgiu earned a prize in Cannes for his short film In the Fishtank and another one in Warsaw for his debut feature The Japanese Dog; the Special Jury Prize at the Rome Film Festival went to Quod Erat Demonstrandum by Andrei Gruzsniczki. In short, being Romanian is still a sort of VIP pass for filmmakers; it brings both the glory and the pressure that come with status. The gold standard of social pessimism and aesthetic ambiguity assure that these so-called realist films are anti-illusionist and crafty in their avoidance of comforting simplifications.
This standard can be inhibiting, however; it can stifle creativity and trade one set of conventions for representing reality (those of commercial filmmaking) for another (of Bazinian de-dramatization). Both Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest film When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism and Child’s Pose are more cynical but scarcely more dramatically complex than the average romantic film and family drama, respectively. The former places a director-actress couple at its centre, as if their gradually revealed relationship dynamic is the only thing at stake among whatever is happening on the movie set. The latter revolves around the character of a domineering woman who places her irresponsible thirtysomething son above the law; however, after first being asked to revolt against her attempts to bail him out after a fatal accident (and getting away with it), we are left to acknowledge that she is only a loving mother making misguided sacrifices for her offspring.
Thus ambiguity is an alibi for these films — they make their points without stressing them, but also without proposing a fresh perspective. Metabolism hints at patriarchal confines and the limitations of cinematic realism, but any feminist or meta-cinematic analysis would find it shaky. Child’s Pose is far less rigorous as an institutional cross-section than any Frederick Wiseman documentary. Hopefully, the aesthetic crisis might be resolved by measuring the films against something other (and less vague) than reality. Bazinian theories are by now popular among Romanian filmmakers and critics, but there’s hardly any discussion of genre or narrative theory, ideological criticism or ethnic studies.
Sadly, the dispute between Romanian film and Romanian society is not strictly aesthetic. Its worldwide reputation hasn’t swayed national authorities to set aside resources and make a sustainable plan for the future. To give just a few striking examples: For the past two years the Romanian film festival in New York — the exquisitely managed and promoted Making Waves — has depended on crowdfunding to cover its costs. The National Film Archive has recently been merged by official decree (under confusing regulations) with two commercially oriented companies. The network of cinemas throughout Romanian towns is so scarce and run-down that it keeps audiences away, making it nearly impossible for Romanian films to recover their costs locally. I guess by now it’s easy to see where Romanian cynicism comes from and why we can’t afford any make-believe. It’s just that a lack of idealism is not equivalent to pragmatism, and we need some sharp strategies to get us out.

Irana Trocan is programmer for the NexT International Film Festival in Bucharest and a freelance film critic.