By Charlotte Weekes
Romanian cinema was limited for many years by the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. The fact that Romania later emerged as one of the most vibrant and exciting filmmaking centres in Europe, initially seem extremely far-fetched. Yet, after Romania became free of communism, a generation of highly talented young Romanian directors produced an impressive body of films that constantly landed at the top of international critics’ polls and in the top tier of film festivals, such as Cannes and New York. The new Romanian cinema is very much concerned with its past, with the historical conditions an entire nation had lived through for half a century. I will discuss and compare two ‘New Wave’ films: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Death of Mr Lazarescu.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Cristian Mungiu directed 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, which took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. The film follows two young Romanian women who should not have to worry about anything else other than their exams, but who end up having to break the law because one of them, Gabi, is pregnant. Under Ceausescu’s dictatorship, his pro-natal policy sentences abortions by the death penalty. Mungi’s film questions how far one would go for a friend. Otilia, the other woman, takes Gabi’s fate into her own hands, by organizing her abortion. It ends with an extremely emotional scene, as Otilia stares at the dead foetus. The film is not about debating pro-life arguments, but about putting up resistance to an oppressive regime. It is a drama shot as a thriller where the psychological state of the victims is accentuated. Heightened by the documentary type style, a sense of harsh realism is created as if Mungiu wanted to continually remind the audience that his fiction was once a reality. I think it would be hard to watch more than once.
The Death of Mr Lazarescu
Cristi Puiu directed The Death of Mr Lazarescu in 2005, which received more than 20 awards. The film follows an old man’s journey through the night, as he is carried from one hospital to the next. At the first three hospitals he is taken to, the doctors reluctantly agree to examine Mr Lazarecsu. Then, although finding that he is severely ill and needs emergency surgery, each doctor refuses to admit him and sends him on to the next hospital. Meanwhile, his condition deteriorates very quickly, his speech becomes babbling, and he slowly loses consciousness. Throughout the night, Lazarecsu’s only advocate is Mioara, his paramedic, who stubbornly stays by his side, trying to get him treated; but even her care cannot compensate for the criminally imperfect Romanian medical system. Although the absurdity of the situation creates humour, the reality of the film is dark and heart-breaking. It transcends its fictional frame and offers a human picture of the Romanian health care system.
These films share a preoccupation with Romanian identity and the way in which the country is moving on after the years of the dictatorship. Although the films can be seen as polar opposites when comparing their genres, a dark comedy in comparison to a drama, the films share the underlying objective of creating a sense of sympathy and sadness as their audience reflect on Romania’s dark past.