Bogdan George Apetri’s “Miracle” took home the top prize in the Romanian Days competition at the Transilvania Intl. Film Festival, which saw nine first-time directors among the 12 filmmakers competing in the annual showcase of domestic cinema.
It’s the first time such a formidable number of debuts have featured in the competition, offering a snapshot of what the fest’s artistic director Mihai Chirilov describes as a “balanced landscape” of new and established voices in Romania’s celebrated film industry.
It’s been nearly two decades since Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005) won the Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival, kickstarting what would come to be known as the Romanian New Wave. Two years later, Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or for his abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” cementing the movement’s status and effectively punching the tickets of Mungiu, Puiu and many of their peers to top-shelf festivals like Cannes and Venice for years to come.
While those directors remain a fixture on the festival circuit – Mungiu’s latest, “R.M.N.,” recently bowed in competition on the Croisette – a new wave of Romanian filmmakers is looking to breathe fresh life into an industry whose “international impact and acclaim,” wrote Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “has radically diminished” in recent years.
Those words appeared in his review of “Miracle,” which Gleiberman described as a highlight of last year’s Venice Film Festival and a film that “could rekindle Romanian cinema.” Another Lido premiere, “Immaculate,” marked the auspicious debut of directing duo Monica Stan and George Chiper-Lillemark. The film, which won the best director prize in the festival’s Venice Days sidebar, is a story of lost innocence depicting the trials and tribulations of a young woman in a rehab clinic.
Co-director Stan is among an emerging generation of female filmmakers that includes Ligia Ciornei, whose directorial debut “Clouds of Chernobyl, 1986: The Lost Year” follows a young woman forced by her mother to terminate her pregnancy, and Alina Grigore, the actress-turned-director whose first feature, “Blue Moon,” took home the top prize at San Sebastian last year and won the Romanian Days Award for best debut in Transilvania.
A trio of female-centered narratives told by women directors marks a distinct shift for the long male-dominated Romanian industry. The difference is also visible on screen, not only in the themes those filmmakers address – “Blue Moon” is centered on a young woman whose dreams are thwarted by her belligerent, dysfunctional family – but in a cinematic approach that strays from the conventions of the Romanian New Wave. “You’re witnessing a film like Alina Grigore’s ‘Blue Moon,’ which doesn’t fit at all that aesthetic, and comes from a completely different approach,” says Chirilov. “People no longer try to copy-paste the aesthetic of the Romanian New Wave.”
Words like “adventurousness” and “innovative” come to mind for the TIFF programmer as he describes the new generation of Romanian directors. That approach plays out in a film like Victor Canache’s feature debut “The Goat With Three Kids,” which turns a traditional Romanian folk tale on its head “with brutal and gory elements that goes into genre,” Chirilov says.
For many young filmmakers, the simple act of making movies outside the bureaucratic constraints of Romania’s state-backed funding bodies encourages bold new waves of thinking. “They are willing to take risks – especially with people who don’t have money from the state,” says Chirilov. “They take the chance in making films with their own money, in an indie style. This usually means they also take chances in storytelling. They are free to tell a story completely devoid of any ideology.”
If there is a constant that seems to unite the old and young generations of Romanian filmmakers, it’s the plaudits they continue to win abroad: along with the San Sebastian and Venice triumphs for Grigore and co-directors Stan and Chiper-Lillemark, respectively, there is Alexandru Belc, who won the award for best director in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar for his communist-era drama “Metronom.” Sebastian Mihăilescu’s hybrid documentary “For Me You Are Ceaușescu” was awarded at both DocLisboa and Ji.hlava.
Other titles from this year’s Romanian Days selection likewise arrived in Transilvania off of previous festival premieres, including Anca Damian’s animated feature “The Island,” which bowed in Rotterdam; Emanuel Pârvu’s San Sebastian selection “Mikado”; and Gabriel Achim’s Tallinn Black Nights premiere “Snowing Darkness.” Octav Chelaru’s feature debut “A Higher Law” world premiered in Thessaloniki, while Ștefan Constantinescu’s “Man and Dog” bowed in Göteborg.
Rounding out the competition was Florin Piersic, Jr.’s “Nothing About Love,” which had its world premiere in Transilvania.