14. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Directed by Cristi Puiu, this film can be considered the beginning of the Romanian New Wave. Based on a real story, Puiu’s film represents the last night of Mr. Lazarescu (Ioan Fiscuteanu). He is an old man who happens to feel very sick on the same night a very serious car crash occurs.
The ambulance comes and takes him, and they go from one hospital to another because all of them are at capacity. When finally they arrive at Bagdasar Hospital, Lazarescu’s condition is critical and no one can say whether he will survive or not.
This film is a good introduction to the Romanian New Wave, as it contains many elements that you will see in other Romanian films from this movement. Long takes, little to no camera movement, minimalist design, and realistic dialogue are what Puiu’s film is made of, and for some foreign viewers, it can be a bit hard to relate to what is happening there.
Puiu mercilessly shows the cruel reality of the Romanian healthcare system, which is very broken. The ignorance of it takes many innocent lives, all while no one bats an eye.
13. Police, Adjective (2009)
With this film, Corneliu Porumboiu has delivered one of the best Romanian police officers ever written. The action takes place in a small town called Vaslui, where Cristi (Dragos Bucur), a young police officer married to a teacher named Anca (Irina Saulescu), is given the duty of tailing a teenager who is suspected of using and selling drugs (hashish).
At first it’s not hard work, but Cristi has a very big problem: he has a conscience that often works against his duty as a man of the law.
Consisting of many long shots, this film will definitely test your patience. Porumboiu doesn’t make just a film about policemen; his picture is more intellectual and complex than that. “Police, Adjective”, as the title might predict, concentrates heavily on the meaning of words, especially big words like “conscience”, “law” and “moral”, and how their meanings can distort one’s conscience and make him or her do something against their personal beliefs.
Corneliu Proumboiu’s film is a slow burner, but definitely a memorable one whose depth and sharpness will leave you in complete awe, wanting more.
12. The Concert (2009)
This film is unlike anything on this list, possibly because its director Radu Mihaileanu, although born Romanian, left the country in 1980 and settled in France. But just because he is not familiar with the realities of Romania doesn’t mean his works are less good than the others on this list.
“The Concert” tells the story of Andrei Simonovich Filipov (Aleksey Guskov), a once-famous conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra who was fired because he hired Jewish musicians, who now works as a janitor at the Bolshoi theater.
A twist of fate makes him find out that the Châtelet Theater in Paris invites the Bolshoi orchestra to play there. So Filipov decides to reunite his old orchestra and perform in Paris, in the concert that could change their lives.
From the first glimpse of this film, you will see that Mihaileanu’s style is very different from the usual Romanian film, but that is not a bad thing. “The Concert” is a light comedy shrouded in divine classical music. Obviously, the soundtrack is the main strength of this film and a solid reason to see it.
Combine that with Melanie Laurent’s outstanding performance, and a great ending with a wonderful onstage performance, and you will get a little gem of cinema that you should not miss.
11. Graduation (2016)
Mungiu’s latest film might be also his best, and also a sign that Romanian cinema is starting to change a bit. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is a 49-year-old doctor in a town; her daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is finishing high school and wants to study abroad, but for that to happen she needs to pass her final exam. Unfortunately, just one day before her first written exam, she is assaulted and almost raped.
This incident seriously threatens her future chances of taking the exam, and also puts her father in a sensitive position. Romeo, who is an honest and respectable man, now has to make a decision against all his beliefs for the sake of his daughter.
Again, the subject of this film is typical for the Romanian New Wave, but the way it is approached here is what differentiates “Graduation” from the other films in the movement. Mungiu isn’t interested in just showing us how corruption infected every part of society; he thoroughly analyzes his characters and their behavior when they are facing a complex moral dilemma.
Romeo is the man who lost hope in his country, and now that his daughter is about to leave, he is not sure what to do with his life. Eliza feels suffocated by her father’s wishes for her. Magda (Lia Bugnar), her mother, is in a constant state of apathy. All of these difficult emotions are very clear in Mungiu’s film, making it much easier to watch for international audiences.
10. West/Occident (2002)
Cristian Mungiu’s first film is too often overlooked when we talk about this director, which is a shame because despite the praise and awards his other films received, this might be his best work to date. West is the story of Luci (Alexandru Papadopol) and his lover Sorina (Anca-Ioana Androne), who are evicted from their apartment.
This event puts their relationship in jeopardy, so she decides to visit her father’s grave and wait for a sign. From there, the narrative of the film splits into three stories whose details are intertwined, each one playing an important part in the development of the main plot.
If you are familiar with Mungiu’s most recent films, you will find “West” a little odd. That’s because it belongs to a time when Romanian cinema was just a little more daring and creative.
Yes, the critique of the society is present, and the careful analysis of the people’s behavior, even the country’s behavior after the fall of the communist regime, is also here, yet something is indeed different.
The way Mungiu chooses to tell the story is more daring; the three storylines and the somewhat not-so-typical Romanian characters bring us a film covered in a magical realism. “West” feels fresh, different, lighter but not superficial, entraining yet powerful and very charming.
9. Too Late (1996)
It is definitely impossible to talk about the best Romanian films without mentioning Lucian Pintilie. This director’s films are undoubtedly the greatest things Romanian cinema has ever produced. His style, his stories, and his views are unique and impossible to recreate. Now, although it’s not his best film, “Too Late” is still a marvelous work of art suitable for this list.
The film starts with Dumitru “Mitică” Costa (Răzvan Vasilescu), a prosecutor sent to a coal town to investigate a strange murder that took place in the mine. After dealing with many problems, mainly caused by the town authorities, Mitică comes to a shocking conclusion that might solve the mystery.
Sadly, this is a forgotten part of Romanian cinema, which is a great loss for any cinephile because there isn’t and there won’t be another Pintilie. This film, like many other from him, feels like it’s breaking the “rules” of typical Romanian cinema.
“Too Late” is an ambitious detective story, it is gripping and brutal, but most importantly, it makes you forget that the action happens in a specific country (Romania), unlike the films from the so-called New Wave.
Pintilie’s characters, their actions, and the situations they are in just are, and it is irrelevant where, a quality that is profoundly missing in the vast majority of modern Romanian films.
8. Why Are the Bells Ringing, Mitica? (1981)
Pintilie’s adaptation of texts written by the great Romanian writer Ion Luca Caragiale is a unique satire that was forbidden by the communist regime. The main inspiration for this film is Caragiale’s famous play, “De-ale Carnavalului”. For a non-Romanian, the narrative of this film can be quite hard to follow.
Things are like this: Didina Mazu (Tora Vasilescu) is Pampon’s (Victor Rebengiuc) mistress, but she’s in love with the barber, Nae Girimea (Gheorghe Dinica), who is also the lover of Mița Baston (Mariana Mihut), who also is the mistress of Crăcănel (Petre Gheorghiu). Once a letter Mița sends gets into the wrong hands, a palpable tension starts to rise.
Strange and beautiful is how you would describe this film. Pintilie isn’t just adapting the play; he makes it his own, keeping very little of the original story. “Why Are the Bells Ringing, Mitica?” is a delight to watch, even though the grotesque world and the stupid people we see in it might turn off some viewers.
Yet what is so inexplicably fascinating about this film is the depth hidden behind the comedy, as though behind all the laughs and awkward situations, Pintilie is telling us that we need to dig deeper to really see what he did there.