Country focus: The Romanian wave is approaching

By Katarzyna Nowakowska

    Warsaw (CentEast Daily News) -- The Film Year of 2007 belongs to Romania. Two Romanian films won major prizes at the Cannes International Film Festival, including Cristian Mungiu's abortion story from Ceausescu times, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which received the Palme d'Or. The late Cristian Nemescu won recognition in the Un Certain Regard sidebar for California Dreamin'.

    No wonder that all eyes are on Romania today, and many a film critic, producer, and filmmaker is wondering: What has happened there? What is the source of this wave of films from a country that almost disappeared from the cinematographic map in the 1990's? What revolution has taken place there?

    Before we answer these questions, we need to remember that though Romania's success is prominent today, it took a long time to get there. Only in the last two or three years have there been Romanian entries at the international festivals, such as Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr Lazarescu, which was awarded at Cannes in 2005.

    One of the organisers of the CentEast Market, Rik Vermeulen, says there is no logical explanation for the current Romanian film boom. He does, however, highlight two factors that could have caused the improvement: greater participation of young filmmakers in production, and the highly skilled film crews in Romania who regularly work on western features and commercials.

    "It was a very slow process - from rock bottom, to this wave of good Romanian films that we observe today," Vermeulen explained. "In the 1970s and 1980s about 40 to 50 films were annually made in Romania, huge productions to service the regime's propaganda. In the 1990s, it was all wasted: the studios disappeared, and the films which came out were produced by communist-era big shots, because they had access to resources and equipment. No one from the young generation stood a chance to make films."

    "After 2000," he said, "some low-budget films started to emerge, often produced for money borrowed from the family, films made by directors of a new generation. Year by year, these modest films gained increasing recognition: first Puiu's short, Cigarettes and Coffee, was awarded in Berlin 2004, and he went on to make The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Mungiu's Golden Palm is a natural consequence of what happened."

    As Vermeulen points out, the new generation of 30-something directors is changing the image of the Romanian film industry. "Now even younger people are starting to make films, motivated by their colleagues' achievements. We can thus expect a new crop of fresh and passionately made films from Romania," he adds.

    Romania is not yet as popular as, for example, the Czech Republic for making major western productions, but thanks to its low costs and beautiful landscapes it is increasingly attracting international productions, such as Cold Mountain starring Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger and Jude Law. However, the industry gets more benefits from shooting commercials - not only financially, but also the experience the technical crews gain from the projects, which they can later use on features.

    At the CentEast Market with The Rest Is Silence, Nae Caranfil is slightly older than directors like Puiu or Mungiu. "His works still deserve attention; they are powerful stories, told in a very expressive and individual way," Vermeulen concluded.