5. Oglinda – The Mirror (Sergiu Nicolaescu, 1993)
Sergiu Nicolaescu is, without a doubt, the most controversial man in the Romanian film industry. He was adored by the public in the Communist Regime (thanks to his patriotic historical films). He was also despised by his colleagues and dismissed as being the Communist Party’s darling. Because of this, he’s movies where always produced and never censored or banned. The big question on everyone’s lips was what Sergiu Nicolaescu was going to do after the revolution and most importantly how will the free world perceive his films.
In spite of the open criticism against him, Nicolaescu continued to make films in 90’s and the 2000’s but didn’t achieve the success of his pre ’89 productions. He didn’t change his style and instead opted to (more or less) repeat the formula. You will find no foul language or nudity in a Sergiu Nicolaescu film but what you will find is a powerful thirst for history and a strong call for the resurrection of patriotism.
“The Mirror” tackles a delicate subject in the Romanian history – the events leading up to the signing of the decree of 23 august 1944 when, during World War II, Romania switched sides and was on its way in becoming a communist country. This meant that the King of Romania had to resign and leave for exile and the military leader marshal Antonescu executed along with all of his close right-wing supporters.
“The Mirror” generated much controversy on its release because it is not entirely historically accurate. Many intellectuals of the day characterized the film as being fascist, as it gave marshal Antonescu a sympathetic portrayal, but in spite of all this it remains Nicolaescu best post ’89 work and it must be viewed as a work of fiction that was inspired by true events.
4. Terminus Paradis – Next Stop Paradise (Lucian Pintilie, 1998)
The film begins on a hot summer day in the outskirts of Bucharest. The backdrop is of course the Romania of the 1990’s. Mitu (Costel Casacaval) and waitress Norica (Dorina Chiriac) meet and begin a strange relationship based on love and hate. You wouldn’t have guessed it but their affair turns out to be more than a one night stand and pretty soon Mitu becomes obsessed with making Norica his woman. Because of poverty, Norica still dreams of marrying her 50 year old boss who has the means to give her a better life.
In the name of love and obsession, Mitu commits a terrible act and bitters the life of everyone around him. Using the two’s love story as a pretext Pintilie paints a merciless picture of transition period Romania, not omitting anything – the injustice, the corruption, the abuse of the army, the easy women, the bribes of officials, the dreams of a better life in western Europe or America.
As always with a Pintilie film, humor plays an important part as it is meant to cover up some of the filth and sadness that the subject brings to the table. It is this way that the audience can find it more tolerable to accept the grim facts of the film. At the end of the film, the viewer will not be so sure that what he has watched was a love story or an unapologetic satire of a country drifting to nowhere.
3. Senatorul Melcilor – The Snails’ Senator (Mircea Daneliuc, 1995)
Even to this day director Mircea Daneliuc has not been able to forgive Romania from censoring his work during the communist regime. In his opinion, the regime stood in the way of him and international greatness. It is this hate that kept him going after 1989 when he was finally able to express himself freely and slam the system with an iron fist. Despite the directors’ rage, “The Snails’ Senator” is not a violent film but a very entertaining comedic satire on the obtuse system that ruled Romania for many years.
Senator Vartosu (Dorel Visan) arrives in a small mountain resort to inaugurate a wind mill. The peasants of the area seize the opportunity to make their complaints known to the senator. Their main complaint is the injustice with which they have been reinstalled as land owners. During the communist regime, the peasants’ lands were put to commune use in order to abolish individual land ownership.
After the revolution, the lands were given back to the peasants but not in their entirety. Different pieces of land were given to compensate those lost so a huge riot aroused among the farmers. The senator does not seem to care too much about this problem, as he seems to care about his next day’s lunch: snails. The local authorities go out of their minds to try and please the senator but snails are scarce.
Instead they throw a huge countryside party for the senator but even that does not end well. Indulged in alcohol the senator starts having visions, which he attributes to the poisoned snails, he has been fed. In the typical Daneliuc fashion, everything degenerates and nobody wins.
2. Cel mai Iubit dintre Pamanteni – The Earth’s Most Beloved Son (Serban Marinescu, 1993)
Marin Preda was one of Romania’s most important writers. His last book entitled “The Earth’s Most Beloved Son” was considered subversive by the communist regime and therefore banned. People knew of its existence but it was very difficult to obtain and quite dangerous to read. Marina Preda’s death remains controversial to this day – many believe that he was “silenced” by the authorities.
With all of this in mind, it is no surprise that the book was turned into a film right after the coming of democracy. Philosophy teacher Petrini (Stefan Iordache) is picked up by the Romanian Secret Service after an inside joke between him and his friend is misinterpreted as a plot to overthrow the communist regime. The terrible prison experience (illiterate guards, frequent beatings and rapes) changes Petrini turning him into a cynic who has no reason to trust or get attached to anyone. After his release, Petrini comes back to a changed world but not for the better.
All his friends are gone (arrested or gone abroad), his wife is divorcing him and the Secret Service wants to use him to imprison other intellectuals. Director Serban Marinescu purposely made this film very shocking in language and imagery – the detailed prison rape scene caused a great deal of controversy among critics and audiences alike – in order to remind the people of Romania that something like this should never happen again.
1. Balanta – The Oak (Lucian Pintilie, 1992)
Lucian Pintilie is one of the many directors that suffered in the communist regime. His works were censored and ultimately banned. His greatest work “The Reenactment” was banned after in played only in a couple theatres in the 70’s, only to be re-released for critical acclaim right after the revolution. “The Oak” is the first film of his to be released in the free world.
The film features two insubordinate characters that refuse to comply with the absurd laws of communism and live a strange but independent life. In many ways, the two lead characters in the film resemble the director and his struggle to have his work seen as he intended. The female lead character is Nela (Maia Morgenstern), a young teacher who is assigned to a school in small town devastated by pollution.
It is here that she meets Mitica (Razvan Vasilescu). Mitica is a hopelessly optimistic doctor who, like her, is a rebel against the corruption of the system. The two manage to bother everyone around them with their ideas and philosophies of life but together they seem to have a force that no one can break.
For Lucian Pintilie this film is a gamble that paid off; the director chose to make this film as straightforward as possible purposely omitting any fancy metaphors. The narration of the film is of an admirable fluency and the slices of life that make this narration are one of great humor, wit and high intelligence.
Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.