In the last ten years, with an impressive number of films striving to tackle new concerns and establishing new aesthetics within the domain of world cinema to a certain extent, and earning global reputations in the form of participating as well winning in some of the top film festivals of the world, Romania cinema has heralded a new breed of artistic filmmakers. But this pattern of frequent creative conveyance is much more than a cumulative shift in the ideology, aesthetics, modes of finance, production, and distribution of films, but also of audience appreciation. Moving beyond purely auteurist approaches and ideological critiques of statist agendas, this film presents the viewers with Romania’s cultural, political, and aesthetics and legacies from both past and present. The skillful portrayal of social issues where identities are on the brink, or the depiction of political or judicial injustices, are some of the most strenuous matters which these filmmakers have dealt with. Most of these film different in terms of their subject matters to one another and has brought with them a spirit of experimentation that marked an attempt to reshape both the traditional storytelling methods and the syntax of film. And in most of the films, the contents are political whereas its standpoints are ideological. Here are 10 Essential Romanian Movies of the last decade, for every cinephile:
1. Aurora (2010)
Viorel is a bothered 42-year-old man, played by the filmmaker Cristi Puiu himself, and his mind is clouded with vague thoughts and so he keeps moving from one corner of the city to the other, like a leaf carried aimlessly by the wind. As the film begins we are introduced to the quotidian activities of the characters and slowly and stealthily were are introduced to the world of the protagonist. The camera religiously follows 36 hours in the life of Viorel with a realistic approach that becomes an artistic pursuit and unravels the hidden essence of human beings and their environment without destroying their natural surroundings.
The domiciliary margins and the familial characters encircling the life of Viorel is tied together in a relationship that is rippling playfully into themes of solitude, love, companionship, and the multiple dangers of male insecurity. By using long shots, a deep focus on actual urban settings, a slow-paced narrative, a refusal of didactic endings, and carefully engineered moments of violence, the film creates a style and aesthetic, that synchronizes with the idiosyncratic style of the filmmaker. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Stream Aurora on Netflix
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2. If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (2010)
Silviu (George Piștereanu) is a teenage prisoner who is awaiting his release and as an inciting incident, just two weeks before the fateful event, he is informed by the authorities that his mother has returned home and at the same time he gets attracted to a young psychology student Ana (Ada Condeescu), working in the penitentiary as an intern. And what happens later is a kind of trope that resembles similarities with plot points relatable with the narrative of popular mainstream filmmaking practices of our country. But what differentiates this Romanian prison drama is the treatment given to the subject matter by the filmmaker Florin Șerban. In his assessment, Serban presents the viewers with an ethical conviction towards self-expression that takes many forms and stems from the filmmaker’s desire to give a voice to those who cannot speak for cultural or political reasons or whose lives are not represented on the screen.
The narrative arc of the film is provided with acts of provoking, questioning, and claims to reality, discarding plotted structures and utilizing open endings. In that sense, it represents the actuality of a cinematic tradition that highlights problems occurring within the society with a political vision. The film was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival and won the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear and the Alfred Bauer Prize. It was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards.
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3. Tuesday, After Christmas (2010)
So, here is another film that resembles a very mainstream plotline which narrates the tale of a successful banker, Paul (Mimi Branescu) who is a married man and blessed with a daughter Mara (Sasa Paul-Szel), and is have an illicit relationship with her daughter’s dentist Raluca (Maria Popistasu), who is much younger than him. So before celebrating this year’s Christmas, he must choose between his wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) or the mistress. What follows next is a subtle study of intimacy where the commitment of remaining bonded in a long relationship is questioned in the alternations of tenderness and irritation, of mind-reading rapport, and alienated conviction that one is being taken for granted or completely misunderstood.
Such is the nature of true intimacy as portrayed by the filmmaker, Radu Muntean, as a gritty reality. With a subtle depiction, the viewers observe that beyond love, beyond marriage, beyond the selfishness that destroys love, beyond the centrifugal force that sends egos whirling away from each other and prevents enduring relationships. With such minutely observed pieces of information, the film thrives in turning a usual plot into something firm and unhackneyed. The film was selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Stream Tuesday, After Christmas on Kanopy
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4. Morgen (2010)
Nelu (András Hatházi ) is in his forties and works as a security guard at the local supermarket in Salonta, which a small town situated on the Romanian-Hungarian border. He leads a mundane life and nothing in life excites him. He is going through the regular grind of his life without any thrill unless one day he discovers a Turkish man, Behran (Yilmaz Yalcin) trying to cross the border while fishing in the river. And then his life as well as the plot of the films takes a narrative turn as both of them embark upon an adventurous journey.
The filmmaker Marian Crisan examines the imprudence of international squabble and maneuvers the narrative into a sharp approach peppered with satire. At the Locarno Film Festival, the film has won four awards that include the Special Jury Prize, Prize the Ecumenical Jury, an award from the Youth Jury, and the Don Quijote award from the International Cineclub Foundation. It was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
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5. Beyond the Hills (2012)
Cristian Mungiu’s third full-length feature film is based on ill-famed real-life events depicted in the non-fiction book Deadly Confession and Judges’ Book by Tatiana Niculescu Bran and focuses on the friendship between two young women who grew up in a dismal Romanian monastery. Voichița (Cosmina Stratan) is a young nun who meets with her friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) after a long time. And Alina plans to take Voichița to Germany. But Voichița refuses to leave with Alina as she is unwilling to abandon her calling, which forms the crux of the narrative. The filmmaker deftly examines the intersection and overlap of unreasoning, blind faith, and crushing superstition.
The film is a critique of the severe, inward-looking world of fanatical religiosity that locates itself at the antipodes to the natural human instincts of reasonableness, compassion, and empathy. The narrative stands out for its silent protest, for its deeply wounded attack on religious bigotry and blind faith. At the Cannes Film Festival, 2012, Mungiu won the award for Best Screenplay, while Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan shared the award for Best Actress. The film also won the Golden Ástor for Best Film at the 2012 Mar del Plata International Film Festival.
Stream Beyond the Hills on The Criterion Channel
6. Child’s Pose (2013)
A wealthy and aging matriarch, Cornelia Keneres (Luminița Gheorghiu), resides in Bucharest has a troubled relationship with her 32-year-old son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache). On an unfateful night, Barbu accidentally kills a boy in a hit-and-run situation. Now, Cornelia will leave no stone to unturn to prevent her son from being charged for the accidental killing. Like a masterful captain completely in command of his craft, the filmmaker Calin Peter Netzer extracts skilled performances from every one of his actors. Calin does not show his protagonist as a villainous character. It is almost as if she is forced to do the things she does to achieve her dark motive.
It is another matter, of course, that her greed for achieving her goal makes her so blind, that she fails to see what he has become in the end. Luminița Gheorghiu’s biggest achievement in the film is that in Cornelia Keneres, she succeeds in making us find a bit of ourselves. And the film, on the other hand, is to remind us that even after we have achieved everything we have ever desired, we may still find ourselves to be lonely, dejected, and discontent. At the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, the film had won the Golden Bear and was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.
Stream Child’s Pose on Kanopy
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7. Aferim! (2015)
A period drama set in the milieu of the 19th century Wallachia, Romania, the film narrates the tale of a policeman, Costandin (Teodor Corban), who is hired by a nobleman to find a runaway gypsy slave Carfin (Toma Cuzin) who has run away from the estate of a nobleman after having an illicit relationship with his wife. Constantin is accompanied by his young son, son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), in the mission.
At a time when many directors fall contentedly into the rhythm of a standard visual language, filmmaker Radu Jude, devises a strategy that suggests the distance and isolation of these travelers. Shot in black and white, the distinctive element in the narrative is the subservience of the characters to the landscape. These pioneers do not stand astride the land, they wander it in misery and exhaustion. At the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director. It was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.
Stream Aferim! on Kanopy
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8. The Treasure (2015)
As the title suggests the film narrates the plight of two individuals, Costi (Toma Cuzin) a married man, and his neighbor Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), who is lacking sufficient money, in search of a treasure buried somewhere on the grounds of Costi’s family country home in Romania. The filmmaker, Corneliu Porumboiu, connects with the fears and insecurities of the two common men.
It takes a meticulous understanding of the plot points and utilizing them intelligently to execute and achieve. Even the finest of the filmmakers had found it difficult to infuse doses of humor into their narrative. But this is not the case with Porumboiu as he has expertly handled the genre. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Prix Un Certain Talent prize.
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9. Graduation (2016)
Cristian Mungiu’s fourth full-length feature film narrates the plight of a morally conflicted physician living in a small mountain town in Transylvania, Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni). The inciting incident in the film arrives in the form of a physical assault on her daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus), before a college entrance exam, as a result of which she will have difficulty leave to study abroad.
The film had a common enough setup for a thriller — How far would you go to protect your little girl? — executed with uncommon elegance and emotional restraint. Mungiu structures his narrative into a languidly paced social drama and pushes past the behavioral norms of his characters and goes into an icy tone from the beginning and sticks to it as his tense morality tale plays out. Matters are complicated and no one is free from blame, least of all Romeo himself and that is what makes this film compelling and engaging in terms of storytelling. At the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Mungiu shared the Best Director Award with Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper (2016).
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10. The Whistlers (2019)
Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is a corrupt middle-aged police inspector in Bucharest who gets entangled in the crime of a money heist and now he has to steer his cunning ways to the devious bends of corruption, treachery, and deception. But to accomplish the mission he has to take a trip to the Canary Islands to learn the patterns of a covert whistling language. What follows next is a series of incidents or interventions that keep the plot from ever getting mundane avoiding clichés and smashes stereotypes as it makes its journey to the end.
Filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu’s triumph lies in the manner in which he compels the viewer to think differently. This is sort of a noir-thriller, where the viewers keep wondering whether the wrongdoer will pay the price for their crime and who will get away with the money. The film had it’s premiered in the main competition section at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It was selected as the Romanian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.