Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Oana Sanziana Marian
November 28, 2012 1:15 PM
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Commentary: Romanian Cinema Is In Grave Danger -- And Here's Why You Should Care

An interesting dynamic about the Romanian New Wave is that not everyone “back home” is happy about its popularity in the West. Some people claim that these films distort and tarnish Romania’s image abroad with “shameful” representations of malignant hospitals, corrupt state officials, young women who have abortions and taciturn loners who buy shotguns and shoot them for seemingly no apparent reason. This disconnect rests in these viewers’ inability to see art as art (not specifically a Romanian problem), which is then stoked by the zeal with which these films have been consumed in the West — the West, still, is not to be trusted, partly by conditioning and partly because, well, maybe the West is not to be trusted.

There are lots of “shameful” elements in “Beyond the Hills”: sexuality, masturbation, the autism of Alina’s brother, paranoid schizophrenia, and the challenge to the Orthodox church.
For example, there’s the efficient commodification of “Romania’s most popular export” into a movement with a catchy name. The directors themselves reject the imposed homogenization and implicit expiration date that comes with the term “Romanian New Wave Cinema.” That said, if “Beyond the Hills” gets an Oscar nomination, even if it doesn’t win, its visibility might create new opportunities for investors to back future Romanian films. But if so, it will also add to the above list of “shameful” representations the callous doctors, the queer, mentally ill (or possibly Devil-possessed) orphan and the botched Christian Orthodox exorcism of Mungiu’s film. Most damning of all for its detractors, “Beyond the Hills,” adapted from a novel by the writer-journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran, is based on real events that took place in northeastern Romania just seven years ago.

The protagonists of “Beyond the Hills,” Alina and Voichita, grew up together in an orphanage in the poorest region of Romania. Separated when they “matured” out of the home at age 18, Alina sought work in Germany. Voichita found a home and relative solace in a local monastery, and the film begins with Alina’s arrival there to collect her friend, who is not prepared to rekindle the relationship with the same level of intimacy that Alina expects. Or, for that matter, to leave the monastery and work on a cruise ship, as the two had planned.

The film implies but never insists on the homosexual nature of their previous relationship; one understands that what is unrequited here is simply human affection. In any event, this rejection, framed by the religious mores that Voichita has passively adopted, incrementally unhinges Alina’s grip on reality, and she has what is effectively a psychotic break.

There are lots of “shameful” elements in “Beyond the Hills”: sexuality itself; masturbation (“self-abuse,” the mention of which triggers physical violence in Alina); the autism of Alina’s brother (Romania doesn’t officially recognize autism after the age of 18); paranoid schizophrenia (never discussed as a disease, but implied by the specific medications the doctor prescribes to Alina); and the challenge to the presumed benevolence and authority of the Orthodox church, to which more than 86% of the Romanian population claims to belong actively. The young women are, incidentally, in their early 20’s, which means they also represent the many abandoned and neglected children that made headlines in the early 90’s — this, too, has been considered a moment of “shame” for Romania, as if the country were an untrained, and thereby innocent, puppy, whose nose the world was forcing into a stain on the carpet. So to a certain segment of the Romanian populace, the restraining of the former RCI and the films it supported might seem justifiable.

"Beyond the Hills"

“The RCI never gave money to produce films; it just allocated state funds for promotion,” Mungiu said in a recent interview. “But what people back home don’t understand is that it takes such a long time to convince people that you’re a good partner, to build trust, and that all of that can vanish in one second if you’re not serious.”

For example, the New York office of the RCI spent the last seven years building a network with other institutions to facilitate the promotion of Romanian artists and their work. In keeping up with the growing reputation of Romanian cinema, many of these efforts were made in support of films and filmmakers, including an allocation of $60,000 a year for the last three years for programming in New York, including visits by the filmmakers.

“But because of the political hatred that dominates Romanian society today, these things [trust, networks, relationships] didn’t matter for a second,” Mungiu has said.

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  • Elvira Lupsa | June 23, 2013 1:47 AMReply

    the Romanian Film Initiative is fundraising now for MAKING WAVES 2013: New Romanian Cinema. Have a look, give a buck and spread the word (we have cool rewards): filmetc.org/kickstarter

    We want to make it bigger and better this year. Thank you for your support!

  • Iuliana Diaconescu | November 30, 2012 3:43 AMReply

    Mi se pare amuzant ca nu ne place sa vedem adevarul despre tara noastra. Daca nu ne place, haide sa ne schimbam, sa cream o Romanie mai buna. Filmele noastre ar trebui sa ne inspire sa fim mai buni. Oricum, fenomenul asta nu se intimpla numai la noi. Majoritatea oamenilor, din orice tara, nu vor sa promoveze o imagine negativa, chiar daca e adevarata. Filmele noastre au o identitate reala, au viata. Pentru motivul asta straini si romani (mai mult sau mai putin) se simpt conectati cu povestile mentionate in acest articol.

    I find it funny that we don't like to see the truth about our country. If we don't like the truth, let's change it, let's create a better Romania. Our movies should inspire us to be better. Anyway, this phenomena is not exclusive to Romania. A majority of people, from any country, don't like to promote a negative image, even if it is truthful. Our movies have a genuine identity, they have life. This is why foreigners and Romanians (more or less) connect with the stories mentioned above.

  • haim filimonovici | November 30, 2012 5:27 PM

    Oare asta e "adevarul" despre Romania? In povestea de la Tanacu nu era vorba de lesbiene, e doar o inventie.
    Dar de la bun inceput filmele astea fictiune, nu documentare. Scopul lor nu e sa promoveze o imagine ori alta a Romaniei, dupa cum scopul Giocondei nu a fost sa promoveze modelul.
    Intrebarea e daca filmele astea sunt bune ori nu. Un test ar fi urmatorul: go on a date to the movie 4, 3, 2. Merge? Nu prea. Go on a date to GoodBye Lenin. Merge? Da. Ei, asta-i diferenta.

  • Andrew C. | November 29, 2012 8:49 AMReply

    Buna, Oana ! Sunt foarte (placut) surprins sa vad numele unei romance pe acest site, pe care-l citesc de ceva timp. Ma bucur ca scrii pentru IndieWire si sper sa-ti citesc, in continuare, cat mai multe articole legate de starea Noului Cinema Romanesc (sau "Puiuland", cum i-ar spune criticul Andrei Gorzo).

    Cat despre acesta... Din pacate, ai foarte mare dreptate. Traim intr-o tara in care nimeni nu mai pune pret pe cultura, iar care o fac, sunt dati la o parte in favoarea politicii - totul pentru propriul interes, pentru obtinerea puterii ! Mungiu a spus intr-un interviu ca (parafrazez) cinematografiei romanesti nu ii lipseste filmul de calitate, ci publicitate, promovarea acestuia. Apropo de premiile Oscar, si filmele noastre ar fi meritate unul (mai ales genialul "4, 3, 2"), dar, din lipsa de promovare, nu l-a luat. Iar faptul ca filmele romanesti evoca si scot in evidenta ce este mai rau din sistemul acestei tari (fie ca vorbim de spitale sau biserici) si devine, din prima, catalogat ca film de festival, film greu de digerat, si nu pentru mase (sau prostime, indraznescu eu) est un lucru... bun ! Filmul este bun, filmul este bine facut ! Noi nu suntem mai prejos decat altii !

    Nu stiu ce ar trebui sa se schimbe pentru ca filmele romanesti sa aiba sansa unui viitor mai "bright"... Poate conducerea politica, poate perceptia, viziunea sau prejudecatile poporului roman. Un lucru e cert: filmele romanesti sunt bune !

    Sper sa tinem, intr-un fel sau altul, legatura ! Spor la scris, ca o faci bine :)

    La revedere :)

  • Andrew C. | December 6, 2012 7:42 AM

    Hmmm... :))

  • clorel namol | November 30, 2012 5:42 PM

    E frumos ca doar romanii comenteaza o stire in engleza. Asta arata impactul puternic al articolului...haha...Revenind la chestiunile de pe forum: nimeni nu il impiedica pe Mungiu sa isi promoveze filmele. Chiar e ajutat enorm de statul roman. Tarantino isi face filmele din banii de taxe? Parca nici George Lukas, si nici Hitchcock. Daca ai incredere in arta ta, fa-o pe bani privati. Atrage investitori, fa imprumuturi etc. Eu, facand parte din "prostime" stiu ca daca un produs nu e bun, atunci nu se vinde. Daca e bun, se vinde, poate nu foarte bine, dar se vinde. 4, 3, 2... nu e "genial", nu e nici macar socant ori realist. E doar plicticos, ieftin si lipsit de orice valoare comerciala. Actuala cinematografie romaneasca consta in niste beizadele bogate care fac pe bani publici filme despre cat de greu a fost ori este in Romania (de parca ei ar avea vreo idee despre cum e saracia ori disperarea - de exemplu Paunescu e printre cei mai bogati oameni din Europa), filme care sunt prost facute, plicticoase, cu sunet si imagine de proasta calitate si, care iau ceva "mentiuni speciale" la niste festivaluri ori premii speciale din partea grupurilor LGBT, dar care nu aduna public in sali. Filmul e "entertainment". Nu esti in stare sa faci "entertainment", nu esti om de film. Iar chestii precum "filmele astea nu sunt pentru prostime" sunt nu doar nepoliticoase, dar si ciudate: daca nu sunt pentru "prostime", atunci de ce regizorul cere pentru ele banii de la "prostime"(bani din bugetul Romaniei)?