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The Romanian New Wave: 5 Amazing Films

The beginning of the new century, which marked a decade since the fall of the dictatorship of Ceausescu, saw the advent of a new wave of Romanian directors who have shined on the international scene. They shared the same background, having acquired field experience working for European productions that were being filmed in Romania thanks to the cheap labour force.

Recognizable for their minimalist filmmaking, which was often due to scarce resources, these directors are obsessed with authenticity. The films below all share a preoccupation with Romanian identity and the way in which the country is moving on after the years of dictatorship.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)

Dante Remus Lăzărescu (Ioan Fiscuteanu), a cranky retired engineer, lives alone as a widower with his three cats in a Bucharest apartment. In the grip of extreme pain, Lăzărescu calls for an ambulance, but when none arrives, he asks for his neighbors' help. Not having the medicine Lăzărescu wants, the neighbors give him some pills for his nausea. A neighbor reveals that Lăzărescu is a heavy drinker. His neighbor helps Lăzărescu back to his apartment and to bed. They call again for an ambulance.

The film follows Lăzărescu's journey through the night, as he is carried from one hospital to the next. At the first three hospitals, the doctors, after much delay, reluctantly agree to examine Lăzărescu. Then, although finding that he is gravely ill and needs emergency surgery, each team refuses to admit him and sends him to another hospital. Meanwhile, Lăzărescu's condition deteriorates rapidly, his speech is reduced to babbling, and he slowly loses consciousness. The hospitals are jammed with injured passengers from a bus accident, but some doctors appear to reject him out of fatigue or because they do not feel like taking care of a smelly old drunkard. During the night, his only advocate is Mioara, the paramedic who stubbornly stays by him and tries to get him hospitalized and treated, while passively accepting verbal abuse from the doctors who look down on her.

Finally, at the fourth hospital, the doctors admit Lăzărescu. The film ends as they prepare to perform an emergency operation to remove a blood clot in his brain.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (2010)

Romanian youth Silviu (George Piștereanu) serves a four-year prison sentence. A few days before his release, his younger brother visits him and tells him that their mother has returned, who has found work in Italy and will take the younger brother there. He says that he came by bus, but Silviu walks to the fence and sees that their mother brought him with her car. Since prisoners are not allowed to be near the fence, a guard comes to take him away, but Silviu resists. The prison director is lenient and does not press charges, so that his stay in prison is not extended.

With a mobile phone another prisoner possesses he phones his mother and urges her to visit him. She does, and tells him he can come to Italy too, after his release. He hates her for abandoning her children in the past, each time she found a new lover, and blames her for being a prostitute, and says he does not want to come to her in Italy.

He makes acquaintance with young social worker and psychology student Ana (Ada Condeescu), who asks him to fill out a questionnaire. On the one hand he likes her, on the other hand he threatens to kill her with a piece of broken glass, and demands that his mother comes. Toward his mother he threatens to kill not only the girl but also himself, and makes her swear she will not take the brother to Italy.

Subsequently, threatening again toward the guards and police to kill her, he forces his way out of prison with her, to have a coffee together in a cafetaria. After that he walks out alone and surrenders.

Where Are You Bucharest? (2014)

Vlad Petri’s documentary bursts with youthful energy and anger at every turn of the camera, and they are many. It is a fully immersed record of roughly one year of protests, split in two phases, taking place in Bucharest’s University Square between January 2012-2013. Since the 1989 revolution this is the biggest expression of civil discontent in Romania. A protest is born, receives a second lease of life, and eventually dies down; the end has been rather sobering.

Petri doesn’t seem too interested in offering much historical context and background commentary. It may sound self-defeating but perhaps minute details are not so important. This slight detachment brings to the fore Petri’s real interest. For all the different motives possible and amongst all the confusion, passionate conversations are taking place on the streets. At times Petri participates in one-to-one conversations, at others the camera listens in on heated group debates and violent scuffles. In the background snow is falling, horns are honking and the gendarmes are being the gendarmes.

12:08 East of Bucharest

Vaslui, Romania: Eastern. A few years after the fall of the Communist regime, some inhabitants of a city discuss how to celebrate the anniversary of the event. They then decide to organize a television broadcast on a local broadcaster and make a celebratory talk show, involving people by telephone.

So Virgil Jderescu, director of the local television station, really wants to organize a live talk show to answer a simple question: has there really been a revolution in this city? Did people take to the streets before or after Ceausescu's escape and therefore the fall? Because if they took to the streets later, then it is not about the Revolution but about simple celebrations.

But the two expected guests decline the commitment, perhaps because the topic is more thorny than Jderescu thinks. But he manages to overcome those absences and invites two other people. The first is Tiberiu Manescu, a drunkard and penniless professor who has always boasted that he was the first in town to challenge the men of the dictator. The other guest is Emanoil Piscoci, a rigorous and paranoid old man who at that time used to dress up as Santa Claus for children.

The broadcast begins and Professor Manescu proudly exposes his experience as a revolutionary, but immediately two viewers call live denying his presence in the square that day and accusing him of speaking under the influence of alcohol, without however having evidence that Manescu really lies. The calm confrontation begins to become embarrassing when Manescu, unnerved, begins to blurt out the flaws of some local "notables", including the same editor / presenter Virgil Jderescu who apparently is not a journalist but a textile engineer on loan to television. The talk-show, initially feel-good and formal, takes a grotesque and scurrile turn, given that even the elderly Piscoci, hitherto silent, pretends to be a "philosopher" of the situation and begins to say nonsense in bursts.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

In 1987, two university students in an unnamed Romanian town, Otilia Mihartescu and Gabriela "Găbița" Dragut, are roommates in a dormitory. When Găbița becomes pregnant, the two young women arrange a meeting with Mr. Bebe in a hotel, where he is to perform an illegal abortion. At the college dorm, Găbița and Otilia review the items they need for the day. As Găbița nervously sits and waits, Otilia barters and buys soap and cigarettes from the dormitory shop. Afterwards, Otilia takes a bus to visit her boyfriend Adi, from whom she borrows money. Adi asks Otilia to visit his family that night, as it is his mother's birthday. Otilia initially declines, relenting after Adi becomes upset.

Otilia heads to the Unirea hotel where Găbița has booked a room, only to be informed by an unfriendly receptionist that there is no reservation under Găbița's last name. Consequently, Otilia visits another hotel, the Tineretului, and after much begging and haggling, is able to book a room at an expensive rate. After speaking with Găbița on the telephone, Otilia goes to a rendezvous point to meet with Mr. Bebe, although he had asked Găbița that she meet him personally. Mr. Bebe grows angry upon hearing that Găbița is not at the planned hotel.

At the Tineretului, Mr. Bebe discovers that Găbița's claim that her pregnancy was in its second or third month was a lie, and that it has been at least four months. This changes the procedure and also adds the risk of a murder charge. While the two women were certain that they would pay no more than 3,000 lei for the abortion, it slowly becomes clear that Mr. Bebe expects both women to have sex with him. Desperate and distressed, Otilia has sex with Mr. Bebe so that he will not walk out on them, as does Găbița. Mr. Bebe then performs the abortion by injecting a probe and an unnamed fluid into Găbița's uterus, and leaves Otilia instructions on how to dispose of the fetus when it comes out. Otilia is exasperated by Găbița's lies, yet continues to help and care for her.

Otilia leaves Găbița at the Tineretului to attend Adi's mother's birthday party. She is still disturbed but stays and has dinner with Adi's mother's friends, who are mostly doctors. They converse about trivial matters while Otilia and Adi remain silent. After Otilia accepts a cigarette in front of Adi's parents, one of the guests starts talking about lost values and respect for elders. Adi and Otilia retreat to his room, where she tells him about Găbița's abortion. They begin debating what would happen if it were Otilia who was pregnant, as Adi is opposed to abortion. After the argument, Otilia calls Găbița from Adi's house. Găbița does not answer, so Otilia decides to return to the hotel.

When Otilia enters the hotel room Găbița is lying on the bed, and she tells Otilia that the fetus has been expelled and is in the bathroom. Otilia wraps the fetus with some towels and puts it in a bag, while Găbița asks her to bury it. Otilia walks outside, finally climbing to the top of a building, as Mr. Bebe had suggested, and dropping the bag in a trash chute. She returns to the Tineretului and finds Găbița sitting in its restaurant. Otilia sits and tells Găbița that they are never going to talk about the episode again. Otilia stares blankly at Găbița.


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