Revisiting Romanian New Wave

“Dupa Dealuri”

(Beyond the Hills)

dir. Cristian Mungiu (2012)

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Two young women, who grew up in the same orphanage, are reunited at one’s home monastery but discover that their relationship is being torn by their conflicting desires and attachments. Their situation becomes chaotic when the monastery’s nuns and priest try to help the two friends.

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In case you aren’t already acquainted with this filmmaker’s style (director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’), Mungiu seems to really like stories about characters caught in a desperate act, pushed into a corner by old societal pressures and failing institutions. This film examines the failures of both church and state, and, also, the divide between them as a parallel to Voichita and Alina’s strained relationship.

The awkward tension between Voichita’s new identity as nun and past life is noticed by Alina when she fails to communicate what she really wants and seems to simply echo what she has been taught at the monastery. The nuns misunderstand Alina and her acts of anguish and desperation. Only Alina, who also stands out in wardrobe, is expressing herself honestly and bluntly to the point that it shocks the other characters. The failures in expression and understanding are purposeful in this brilliant screenplay.

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I love Mungiu’s directing and the precise cinematography of this film. The only real ‘cues’ to what a character is thinking is the camera angle and focus, such as when Voichita watches the priest and nuns pray over Alina and she stands out as observer (above).

The story ends in a confusion of judgment, I thought. There is no ‘good’ character, everyone is guilty of something connected to the ending, but no one is an antagonist, either.

I’ll close with a quote from Mungiu from an interview in FilmComment: “My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people. It is important that the story triggers the audience’s desire to meditate upon values and on their own position on the situation I have presented. Ideally, this is what cinema should be about.”



2013 Spotlight

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” (2013) 


So obviously, the cinematography and effects used to recreate space are the big attraction here…

I can’t remember the last time I saw a film about space or one that recreated space so well that just the physics of space movement and gravity alone were enough to have me gripping the armrests of my seat and gritting my teeth! (who knew space DEBRIS could be scarier than Jaws & zombies combined?!) It was the closest cinematic experience to living through the horror of spinning through space with Sandra Bullock’s character and getting pushed out away from Earth with her…the real monster here is isolation.


I also saw a subtle theme of being ‘reborn’ linked together through some of the images of Sandra Bullock’s character through her attempt to survive the disaster in space:


The fetal position that Sandra rests in once she escapes the violence space debris, the umbilical-cord-like-tube-thing to her space suit, and the ending that has her swim to the surface for her first gasp of air on Earth…whether intentional or not, there does seem to be a ‘rebirth’ of Bullock’s character after she fights the temptation to give up and uses her last shreds of hope and strength to push forward for life.

I guess a lot of people were annoyed with Bullock’s character, but I though it was easier to sympathize with her and find yourself holding your breath along with her in the film. She doesn’t start out strong and confident, unlike Clooney’s character, but instead, she is fragile and distracted by her fears and what she can’t let go of…there is nothing heroic or courageous about her, until she is forced to let go of her attachments (literally, too) and learn to use gravity to be ‘reborn’ on Earth.

Only the big screen can do it justice, go see it in theaters while you can.

What I’m looking forward to (SO MANY THESE NEXT 2 MONTHS):

1. Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2013)

Joaquin Phoenix in a weird romance set in LA? Done. I don’t want to reduce it to just that, but I’m just excited to see what Jonze is trying to say with the film…and Phoenix’s acting.

2. Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013)

This is going to be such a sweet film with grade-A cinematography and a story that, I feel, will resonate well with audiences:

3. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

I’m seeing this ASAP. I don’t even know why I still haven’t seen it. Stellar cast, and a crazy story about a freedman who gets tricked and sold into slavery…it’s going to be WOAH. Michael Fassbender can be so scary LOL

4. Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013)

Again, excited about the cast and it’s a Coen Brothers’ film! I read that it’s a story about grieving, which makes sense with the fuzzy light and sad, grayish colors of the film. bring it onnn…..

5. Calin Peter Netzer “Pozitia Copilului (Child’s Pose)” (2013)

Oh you betcha I’m plugging a new Romanian film by a filmmaker whose films, I admit, I have not yet seen or heard of, so he’s a fresh new face and will be featured at the AFI FEST IN HOLLYWOOD NEXT WEEK (heaven yea, i’ll be there!), so hooray Romanian filmmakers again!!! It was also co-written by Razvan Radulescu, who did “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”. I am so proud for the decade-strong, growing recognition of ‘new wave’ Romanian filmmakers…so proud.

And oh, how it fits into the themes that I’ve noticed Romanian filmmakers like to explore today- generational distance and conflicts, and the bleak, desperate self-preserving attitudes of the wealthy class.

AFI Fest next week has a bunch of screenings worth checking out, and its FREE! I’ll be there, and I’ll be back here after then.

*Sneak Peeks*

Its been wayyy too long.

Just felt like sharing a few trailers/previews of upcoming films you will want to see soon!

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, or if you just like watching trailers!, here’s the first trailer for

Quentin Tarantino’s

“Django Unchained”

I’ll also be seeing The Hobbit, but other than that, I don’t have much excitement for any of the other ‘mainstream’ American releases this month. (Gangster Squad is in January and The Great Gatsby was pushed back to May. :/ )

However, if you’re into foreigns (!), this one, “Barbara”, is one from Germany and looks like a great acting piece. Supposedly, the Germans have been coming up with some really cool films recently, so I’m trying to catch up with the newest of their creations LOL and this will be playing at the UCI Edwards Theater soon, I think.

and now for some Romanian love:

This is a trailer for a new film “Usturoi” (Garlic) which I’m curious about:

USTUROI from E-Motions Films on Vimeo.

And of course, Cristian Mungui‘s newest film, “Dupa Dealuri (Beyond the Hills” (2012) which I was going to see at the AFI Fest but missed out on! 😦 So I’m waiting for Netflix…. 😦 He’s a brilliant director! And at the forefront of the “Romanian New Wave” of cinema!!! If you like a film that lingers in your thoughts days after you’ve seen it and presents you with a raw “realism” in the dialogue and cinematography, this is for you! 🙂

…Short Post about Shorts…

Since one of my potential research interests lies in Romanian cinema and I’m just proudly in love with my homeland’s films from the past 20 years, I might be plugging Romanian films quite often in the future. I am also going there next month for 3 weeks, yay!

For now, I present:

TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE (2009) dir. Cristian Mungiu (& others) 

“Romanian Urban Myths of the 80s” is the tagline, and its a film comprised on 6 short (15-20 min.) stories that poke fun at these urban legends of Romanian culture and society during the ‘Golden Age’ of the last 15 years of Communism in Romania (the term was coined by the propaganda newspaper at that time).

In a way, all of the short films are like expanded jokes about stereotypes like the ‘greedy police officer’ or ‘zealous young activist’ that made life in Romania just that much more difficult and annoying and hellish. The cinematography suggests the humor, just in case you don’t immediately catch it with the spot-on acting by a lot of familiar faces (if you’ve seen other Ro films). The awkwardness and tension between the characters is hinted at ‘just so’, and the
humor is all about people getting screwed over…in ways that would only happen in Communist Romania.

This series of short films was certainly not as dark and dry as most other Ro films I’ve seen, especially considering that Mungiu directed “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”, but its a nice little piece of nostalgia for those who actually experienced those times (my parents, your parents…) and a lighter, funnier way to see and learn about those ‘urban legends’ and Ro society in the 1980’s. If you’ve ever wondered why the older Romanians that you may know act or speak or think in the ways that they do (this is where I assume that you all know a Romanian or two…), its interesting to see the kinds of communities they may have grown up in or the common attitudes on life they were taught or even the absurdity and ridicule of the government in those past societies.
*Ah, the beauty of exploring foreign cinemas!*

P.S. It’s online on Netflix!

La revedere!

Yay Romanian Pride!


Recently, a friend referred this film to me and although I am very interested in Romanian cinema and especially films from the Romanian “New Wave” (internationally recognized films from 2005-today) I had never heard of this one until she told me about it. I’m so glad she told me about it. And now I’m telling you about it.

Balanta/The Oak (1992)-dir. by Lucian Pintilie

It was just as hilarious and strange as my friend described it, if not more. The style, aesthetics, and plot are way different from most of the “new wave” films of today, although I would say that that NBD (no big deal), shoulder-shrugging attitude that goes hand-in-hand with bleak, black-humour and is very reminiscent of post-communist Romania is still very present in this film.

[On a side note, I realized the main actress, Maia Morgensten, plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the “Passion of the Christ”]

I don’t want to give away the storyline, but I do want to put it out there that, if you plan to watch it, you just might be shocked by the dark humor and strange relations between people in the film.

In the world of this film (which very much resembles my experiences in Romania): Drama is pretty much thrown out the window…the camera takes on several perspectives, switching throughout the film, and barely reveals which characters it sides with, remaining mostly observational and neutral. Almost nothing is a big deal, anything can be laughed at or trivialized, because the harsh reality of life is just not worth facing. The film’s attitude is similar to that of other Romanian films in how it is neither sympathetic nor condemning…if anything, this characteristic, combined with the dark humor, seems to form somewhat of a loose Romanian-esque style.

Its really interesting how the plot starts out with grief, depression, and even nostalgia, but abruptly shifts into a light, funny, or ironic mood…this quick transition happens often in the film, which makes the main characters seem just slightly schizo… :p

The film is, obviously, rich in political discourse…there’s a very lively scene towards the end (which is also HILARIOUS, especially if you are Romanian or have been around Romanian family parties/gatherings) in which questions of capitalism, the economy of Romania, and religion get thrown around in a friendly debate..of sorts. You can watch the scene here, if you have a few minutes to spare: (i just realized there aren’t any subtitles in this clip, but there are english subtitles in the full length movie on youtube)

OMG THE DIALOGUE. I wanted to take so many screenshots of great lines, and totally absurd conversations, but they’re hard to catch in just one shot…the attitude towards the military is really great…in that it mostly pokes fun and doesn’t take anything they do seriously. In fact, there is a scene in which they are represented as cowardly and mindless. They randomly drop in to the characters’ lives and always interrupt the main storyline.

It was really fun to watch. It is definitely the most strangest Romanian film I have ever seen…the characters constantly take you by surprise and all the randomness seems welcomed and expected in the world of the film. Sometimes, the plot just takes a brief tangent and lingers there and it just adds to the density of the story and landscape.

So, since I should stop before I start rambling about the themes of violence and class politics in the film, I will simply recommend this to everyone.
You can easily watch it on Youtube with English subtitles.