Selection and presentation by Dominique Nasta, professor at the ULB and author of the book “Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle” (2014)
At the beginning of the 21st century, Romanian cinema became more and more visible in the eyes of film critics and the festival going public via a previously neglected subgenre: short film. Romanian short films, mostly fiction, created by newcomers as graduation works or as completely independent projects, won numerous prizes at many festivals, both in Europe and the United States. The now famous names of Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu and Cristi Puiu first attracted the attention of cinema professionals with their short films. As well as being effective laboratories for longer and more elaborate films, short films often highlight the vitality and originality of emerging talents, attracting the same international recognition as their predecessors. Most of the scenarios are very authentic and scrutinise the lives of ordinary people caught up in a web of different social taboos. Their naturalistic veneer seeks to portray the contrasting realities of life under rampant capitalism. And yet the films are often imbued with absurd, ironic and even surrealistic elements in the best tradition of Romanian literature and theatre. In addition, Romanian short films produced between 2001 and 2007 are linked by a shared passion for cinema in general and the reflective device in particular. They are always ready to flush out subterfuge, preferring to question and avoid the obvious.
Călătorie la oraş (A trip to the city, 2003 | 19’) is Corneliu Porumboiu’s directing graduation film. One spring morning, the village teacher and mayor’s driver prepare for a trip to the neighbouring city where they will buy a computer to connect to the Internet. They have also been asked to purchase a state-of-the-art toilet that the mayor’s wife has fallen in love with. Once they arrive, they quickly realise that everyone there is busy celebrating the 854th anniversary of a nameless city…
Curcanii nu zboara (Turkey Girl | 22') by Cristian Mungiu is an episode from the collective film Lost and Found (2005). Mungiu employs a Kusturica-style magical realism to recount the story of a peasant girl visiting her dying mother in a Bucharest hospital. The film is an ironic metaphor for a society in transition, where bribery still dominates the social system. Despite receiving recommendations on how to navigate this system of “greasing palms”, the girl will do anything to save her pet turkey. From the ashes of the past, which saw an entire heritage neighbourhood sacrificed for the construction of a palace for a megalomaniac dictator, emerges a true cinema gem.
Valuri (Waves, 2007 | 16’) by Adrian Sitaru is probably one of the most complex contemporary Romanian short films. During the film’s climax, the audience witnesses the mysterious disappearance of a foreign tourist in the waves of the Black Sea. The atmosphere of the opening scenes is tense. The summer sun burns pitilessly and holiday makers of all descriptions are squashed together like sardines… The direct sound combines dialogue, crowd noise, light music, football commentary on the radio and telephone conversations. Such a soundscape carries a lot of information about Romanian society at the dawn of a new century.
Oxygen (2010 | 33') by Adina Pintilie is inspired by real events: a man attempts to illegally cross the Danube using an oxygen canister. During the communist dictatorship, thousands of people risked their lives trying to flee the country. In the end, the film turns out to be a poetic docudrama, beautifully blending fiction with strange documentary archives in images of breathtaking beauty, supported by a haunting soundtrack featuring little or no dialogue.