The title of the Palme d’Or-winning 2007 Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” from director Cristian Mungiu, refers to the length of a terminated pregnancy. But in recent months it has taken on the significance of a countdown.
Romanian films such as “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (Cristi Puiu, 2005), “Police, Adjective” (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009) and, of course, “that abortion movie” represent some of the most vibrant and engaging international filmmaking in recent years — garnering ten major awards at Cannes, Berlin and other festivals and spawning a movement referred to as the Romanian New Wave. But now, on the eve of Film Society at Lincoln Center’s “Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema” series, which starts Thursday, Nov. 29, that fresh flow is threatened by sudden changes in the Romanian government’s policies. This is disastrous for the filmmakers, first of all, but also for American cinephiles, who are in danger of much-diminished access to future Romanian films.
Consider Mungiu’s most recent work, “Beyond the Hills,” which will have its much-anticipated U.S. release in February. Since its premiere at Cannes, where it won awards for best screenplay and best actress (shared between the leads Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur), and recent screenings at the New York Film Festival and AFI Fest, the buzz around the film has been growing. As Romania’s official entry for the best foreign-language film Oscar this year, “Hills” is likely to find a wider audience. But pretty soon, absent that designation, films such as Mungiu’s could fall off the radar completely.
In June, Prime Minister Victor Ponta passed an undemocratic “emergency ordinance,” without a parliamentary vote, that restructured the Romanian Cultural Institute. This action was largely seen as the Prime Minister’s move to replace all personnel appointed by his political enemy, President Traian Basescu, whom he also tried (and failed) to have impeached later in the summer, via another unconstitutional measure.
Mungiu and countless other artists, Romanian and otherwise, argue that the way in which the current Romanian government under Ponta has severely undermined the country’s fragile cultural infrastructure is a real blow to Romania’s image abroad. In one fell swoop, the Prime Minister’s move has dismantled years’ worth of steadily built relationships between the Romanian Cultural Institute, Romanian artists and other countries’ institutions, threatening Romania’s integrity as a civil society. Though the RCI takeover is just one of many alarming “emergency” measures, it is the one that most directly affects the future of Romanian films.
The question at the center of Romania’s currently imploding politics is, in fact, the same question that exists at the heart of “Beyond the Hills”: Who is responsible for this mess?