Romanian Cinema Rising

From June 6 through July 3, the Gene Siskel Film Center continues Romanian Cinema Rising, a two-month survey of the under-recognized past and award-winning present of this rapidly emerging Eastern European cinema. This month we focus largely on films from 1994-2007.

When Cristian Mungiu’s 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2007, it put the spotlight on Romanian cinema as never before. Critical acclaim for the late Cristian Nemescu’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ at the same festival added luster to the nation’s recent string of cinematic triumphs including the Cannes Festival’s 2005 A Certain Regard award for Cristi Puiu’s THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, and 2006 Camera d’Or prize for Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST.

Black humor and satire are the ready strategies for Romania’s newest generation of directors. These films may rely on realism but they are far from grim. Mungiu’s OCCIDENT (2002) and Peter Netzer’s MARIA (2003), both conspicuously set in a none-too-prosperous society, bristle with the kind of absurd comedy that grows from sharp observation. With tongue in cheek, Nae Caranfil’s DON’T LEAN OUT THE WINDOW (1994) turns a nostalgic eye on a love triangle set in a repressive small town. Another angle on love is seen in Tudor Giurgiu’s bitterweet romp LOVE SICK (2006), in which two college girls fall for each other.

Chaos and black comedy collide in THE PAPER WILL BE BLUE (2006) Radu Muntean’s dark ramble through the first night of the 1989 Romanian revolution in the wake of the dictator’s overthrow. Masterfully tragicomic, Nemescu’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ (ENDLESS), based on a real incident, strands a platoon of U.S. Marines on a NATO mission in a small Romanian town for an unforgettable culture clash. The Washington Post called it, “One of the best films about how America is perceived abroad ever made.”

-- Barbara Scharres

1985, Mircea Veroiu, Romania, 100 min.
With Jana Gorea, Florina Luican

Adapted from a novel by literary critic and writer Garabet Ibraileanu, ADELA’s story of obsessive love is set in 1900, in the bucolic splendor of a country estate. Emil, a middle-aged doctor spending the summer at the home of a cousin, becomes smitten with her 23-year-old daughter, last seen as a child. Now a ripe beauty surrounded by a hint of scandal as the result of her brief marriage and recent divorce, Adela sends mixed signals when the older man initiates an awkward dance of courtship. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Friday, June 6, 8:15 pm
Monday, June 9, 6:00 pm


2007, Cristian Nemescu, Romania, 155 min.
With Armand Assante, Razvan Vailescu

“A full-out comedy…a masterful and ambitious film.”--Michèle Maheux, Toronto International Film Festival program

The shocking deaths of director Nemescu and his sound engineer Andrei Toncu in a car accident as CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ was being completed made the 2007 Cannes Film Festival’s A Certain Regard award a bittersweet triumph for the Romanian cinema. This sprawling comedy twists to a tragic denouement when a bullheaded U.S. Marine captain (Assante) faces off against a stiff-necked small-town stationmaster (Vailescu) in the rush to haul a trainload of NATO radar equipment across the border to the Kosovo front. Detained five days for lack of paperwork, the Americans become the toast of the town, treated to copious feasting, a Dracula-themed floorshow, and the drooling attention of every available female. Their visit turns out to be a two-edged sword. In Romanian and English with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Friday, June 27, 7:45 pm
Monday, June 30, 6:30 pm


1981, Elisabeta Bostan, Romania/USSR, 93 min.
Octavian Cotescu, Carmen Galin

A lively tale of a touring circus sparkles with the glittery illusion of the big top circa 1900, and stars members of the Bucharest Circus. Known for her children’s films, director Bostan focuses on Geo, a plucky boy with an extended family of veteran show-people including the vain bareback rider, a beautiful high-wire artiste, a soulful clown, and the polar bear cub that will change all their fortunes following a disastrous fire. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Saturday, May 31, 3:00 pm
Wednesday, June 4, 8:00 pm


1994, Nae Caranfil, Romania/France, 104 min.
With Nathalie Bonnifay, George Alexandru

“Please allow me to ‘fade in’ to a story that takes place in 1984, although this is absolutely the opposite of George Orwell’s.”--Nae Caranfil

With a sly sense of fun, director Caranfil injects levity into the claustrophobic days of the Communist era with his tale of a youthful love triangle, set in a small town. Horatio, an army recruit, is courting high-school lass Cristina, who won’t put out without a yet-to-materialize engagement ring on her finger. Along comes fledgling actor Dino, and Cristina’s resolve begins to waver. Structured in RASHOMON-like flashbacks, the comic story is told from the point of view of each of the three characters. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Sunday, June 8, 5:00 pm
Wednesday, June 11, 6:00 pm


2007, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 113 min.
With Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu

“A powerful film.”--Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Mungiu achieves the near-impossible…the tale’s impact is remarkable.”--Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

The first Romanian film ever to win the coveted Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize, this story of two roommates grappling with termination of an unplanned pregnancy is set against the constriction and paranoia of ‘80s Bucharest. Strong and daringly vulnerable performances put the emphasis on emotional realism as the young women, one pregnant and fearfully duplicitous, the other stoically willing to help, become entrapped by the cruel backstreet rules of their situation. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Sunday, June 29, 5:15 pm
Thursday, July 3, 6:00 pm


2006, Tudor Giurgiu, Romania/France, 85 min.
With Maria Popistasu, Ioana Barbu

Cupid’s arrow swiftly targets two college coeds the first day of class, and Kiki, the fun-loving imp, and Alex, the earnest student, fall sweetly, zanily in love with each other. Newfound independence, erotic interludes, and comic encounters with a cranky landlady make for an almost-idyll, except that Kiki’s volatile older brother hovers like the jealous ex-lover he may in fact be. There are secrets yet to be revealed when the lovebirds set out for a summer with Alex’s clueless parents. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Friday, June 20, 8:00 pm
Monday, June 23, 6:00 pm

2003, Peter Calin Netzer, Romania/France/Germany, 97 min.
With Diana Dumbrava, Horatiu Malaele

“A diamond mined from black coal…[an] acidly funny portrait of a people and country.”--Derek Elley, Variety

Maria is the beleaguered mother of seven and wife to an alcoholic gambler ousted from his factory job, but this is not social realism. Against all odds, director Netzer stirs up a winning mix of gentle black humor, rollicking satire, and low-key tragedy. After her husband’s henpecked slob of a buddy learns a new trade as the unlikely boy-toy for hire to hefty lady-truckers, Maria coolly assesses her own assets and steps with trepidation into a career in the world’s oldest profession. In Romanian, English, French, and Russian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Sunday, June 15, 5:00 pm
Wednesday, June 18, 6:00 pm

2002, Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 105 min.
With Alexandru Papadopol, Anca-Iona Androne

An abandoned bride is the innocent catalyst in a narrative that merges three stories revolving around dreams of emigration. Eviction from an apartment threatens to skewer the marriage of newlyweds; a poetry-writing wallflower endures her mother’s frantic matchmaking schemes; and a veteran cop learns the fate of a relative who fled across the Danube on a blow-up doll. With subtle humor, director Mungiu (4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS) metaphorically positions Romania as a bride ditched at the altar when her citizens lust after more prosperous realms. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Friday, June 13, 8:00 pm
Monday, June 16, 6:00 pm


2006, Radu Muntean, Romania, 95 min.
With Paul Ipate, Adi Carauleanu

Black humor, gritty realism, and buffoonery are all called into play as the first night of the Romanian revolution is dramatically evoked as a violent comedy of errors precariously poised between Shakespearean tragedy and The Three Stooges. The dictator has been overthrown, the city is in chaos, and rebels have seized the national TV station. Newly fired with revolutionary fervor, a young soldier goes AWOL from his armored-truck unit and meets the opposing forces of the night head-on. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Sunday, June 22, 5:45 pm
Wednesday, June 25, 6:00 pm


1982, Alexandru Tatos, Romania, 98 min.
With Geo Barton, Mircea Diaconu

Three darkly satirical stories revolve around the close-knit cast and crew of a film in production ironically entitled HAPPINESS. The director finds the mood of his life echoing his script in “The Telephone.” In “Prospecting,” the filmmakers’ dinner at a roadside inn is punctuated by the obnoxious intrusion of an uninvited guest--their host. In “Four Slaps,” two elderly extras discover they knew each other during the war: one the torturer, the other his victim. In Romanian with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)

Saturday, May 31, 5:00 pm
Monday, June 2, 6:00 pm