A collection of various documents, such as transcriptions
of conferences, readings, discussions.
Szolnok Conference 04: Trans-Europa Express
Whom Are We Supposed to Seduce?
By Dana Duma
"Whom are we supposed to seduce?" is a question
that often bothers the film makers in the ex-communist countries, in
their attempt to re-win the audience at home and to re-win the attention
of Western producers and distributors. The box-office results have been
quite deceiving for Romanian directors these last years, and everybody
agrees we should not only blame the American invasion of our screens.
Young authors understand that the allusive and metaphorical language
doesn't work anymore, and that new expectations of the public should
The pessimist image of the past-communist reality neither
seems to be appealing to the audience, definitely not the way it was
represented by most of the Romanian movies during the last decade. Especially
the young public is allergic to the obsessive motives of "The Fatal
Communist Heritage" or "The Stolen Revolution".
The turn of the millennium brought important
changes to our cinema and they can be related to the authors' desire
to please the national public, or the juries of the international film
festivals. We can observe the two targets are sometimes divergent. We
can use a recent example: Maria (2003), the first movie by Peter
Calin Netzer, won several prizes in the Locarno Film Festival (Special
Jury Award, Best Actress Award for Diana Dumbrava, Best Actor Award for
Serban Ionescu) but didn't have bright box-office results. Based on a
real fact, it is the story of Maria, a beautiful young woman with seven
children and an alcoholic husband who, after his imprisonment, has to
prostitute herself in order to survive and to raise her kids. She lives
in absolute poverty and her failed attempts to find support become the
occasion for a dark picture of the post-communist reality, with social
polarity, the desperation of "the silent majority", the sordid
aspects of misogyny and the dissolution of family values. While the only
female character showing compassion to Maria gets sick, the pressure
of cynical people becomes unbearable, culminating with the offer, made
by a priest, to sell one of the kids to a rich couple. To Maria prostitution
appears to be the only way to feed and keep all her children. The intervention
of a tv-reporter has also a cynical touch, because he seems to be more
interested in the sensationalist side of the story than in the woman's
There is something pure in this melodrama,
which is reminiscent of ancient Danish movies, with some archaic elements
that might have been appreciated by the Locarno jurors. On the other
hand, we cannot ignore the skilful narrative structure (the script is
co-signed by Gordan Mihic) including a comic relief (assured by a male
hooker) and sharp social observations.
A new Romanian movie, Damen Tango (2004),
distinguishes itself by a new approach to melodrama. The unhappiness
of the heroes is not anymore related with poverty or the dreary reality
of post-communist Romania. The story of a terrible vengeance (a classical
theme of the genre) is set in a rich family, where the husband leaves
his wife to marry her younger best friend. After he gets killed in an
accident, the young woman tries to re-marry but her access to happiness
is obstructed by her ex-friend (portrayed by the international star Maia
Morgenstern) who considers her punishment an act of justice. We don't
know yet whether this new species of melodrama will seduce the Romanian
public, but the director's attempt to tell a universal story might mark
a new trend in Romanian cinema.
It is no doubt that an efficient strategy
to seduce the Romanian public is based on an ironic and comic approach
to transition topics: corruption, poverty, moral crisis, etcetera. The
clever director Nae Caranfil is a specialist in making us laugh at the
disastrous aspects of our brave new capitalist society as he convinced
us with his previous movie, Asphalt Tango, and the most recent
one, Philantropy (2002), the major box-office success of the
last three years. The movie selected for the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
in Cannes shows us amazing forms of the 'marketisation' of beggary, by
telling us the story of a college professor. Humiliated in his attempts
to conquer a beautiful girl accustomed with luxury, he tries to make
some easy money in association with an inventive crook. The underworld
fauna is funny depicted by Caranfil, an author with a vivid sense of
juicy fast line and extravagant situations.
A similar strategy is well managed by
Cristian Mungiu, whose Occident (2002) was also selected for
the Cannes programme Quinzaine des Réalisateurs , and whose film
had good box-office results as well. This bittersweet comedy approaches
a national obsession: immigration. It tells the story of several heroes
whose destinies have in common elements that the author reveals using
the puzzle narrative form and the confrontation of different points of
view. The social notations are skilfully dissolved in the hilarious situations
and dialogues, but the portrayal of the moral confusion is lucid and
Starting with Stuff And Dough (2001)
by Cristi Puiu we can notice the tendency of some Romanian movies to
update and adapt their language and topics borrowing elements from the
American popular genres like the road movie and the Mafiosi thriller.
The trip from Constanza to Bucharest of two young friends is the beginning
of their involvement with the local Mafia affaires, because "the
small package" entrusted by the black market boss was their unconscious
participation to drug dealing.
The character of the young man blackmailed
by the mobs becomes familiar to the new Romanian cinema. Rage (2002)
by Radu Muntean tells the story of two young small crooks who owe a lot
of money to the Gipsy Mafia. The street fights and the illegal car chases,
under action movies codes, are merely a pretext to inquest a real dangerous
environment, with an incredible ramification of the crime organization.
Shot in a quasi documentary way, Rage brings on the screen
mobsters amazingly portrayed by non professional actors.
Last, but not least, I should signal another
attempt to approach topics the young audience is interested in. The single
feature film with digital image so far made in Romania, Watch It! (2003), directed
by Ovidiu Georgescu, is also a story with young small crooks under influence
of big Mafiosi. It develops, in an imaginative way, a real fact signalled
by a newspaper: the disappearance of a newborn child from a maternity,
the son of a 'rather dubious' underage Moldavian. The movie tries to
restore the possible adventures of the girl in a quite dangerous Bucharest.
The attraction of the no-budget movie is increased by the participation
of Marcel Iures (the most internationally known Romanian actor), portraying
a cruel mobster. The young author released his movie in the Romanian
Cinémathèque and sized the opportunity to offer the press
an interesting Manifesto in the spirit of Dogma 95. I quote from Ovidiu
Georgescu: "Aesthetics exist for people who really look for it intently.
If you don't have your own, try the above principle and see what comes
out. In real life only result matters. Last rule: keep on shooting, folks.
Just keep on shooting." Maybe he is right and maybe this is the
way to move fast in nowadays cinema and to catch its Trans-Europa Express.