Archive for the 'Romania' Category

The East End Film Festival

The 2009 East End Film Festival launches tomorrow - in the words of the organisers:

The East End Film Festival showcases hot new talent and homegrown films alongside larger independent releases and special events, informing and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers and audiences from across London and beyond, and raising the profile of this vibrant and diverse area - London’s East End.

Traditionally, it’s had a strong Eastern European presence, and 2009 is no different - perusing the programme I note that they’re showing the following:

Friday 24, 8pm: The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Светът е голям и спасение дебне отвсякъде, d. Stephan Komandarev, Bulgaria, 2008) - I saw this in Sarajevo and remember enjoying it, though the framing story (a champion backgammon player travels to Germany to collect his teenage grandson from hospital following a car crash that killed his parents) is far less compelling than the flashbacks in which parents and son leave communist Bulgaria for life in an internment camp in Italy. Unsubtitled Bulgarian trailer here.

Saturday 25, 7pm: Iska’s Journey (Iszka utazása, d. Csaba Bollók, Hungary, 2007) and Everybody Dies But Me (Все умрут, а я останусь, d. Valeriya Gai Germanika, Russia, 2008) - I haven’t seen the Russian film, but this double bill is worth it for the stunning if relentlessly grim Hungarian title, which I reviewed here

Saturday 25, 7.30pm: Złoty środek (d. Olaf Lubaszenko, Poland, 2009) - this Polish film is so new (it opened there on 20 March) that it doesn’t even seem to have an English title yet. The director is best known as an actor (most famously the male lead in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Love/Krótki film o miłości, 1988), but he’s also been directing for the last decade or so. Sadly, I can’t attend this screening, but I suspect my good friend and occasional writing partner Kamila Kuc will be relieved, as she’s hosting the Q&A and I won’t be able to heckle it. Unsubtitled Polish trailer here.

Monday 27, 7pm: I Was Here (Mina olin siin, d. René Vilbre, Estonia, 2008) - a second feature that made a splash at the Karlovy Vary film festival last year. Here’s the (unsubtitled) trailer.

Tueday 28, 6.30pm: Zift (d. Javor Gardev, Bulgaria, 2008) and Rene (d. Helena Třeštíková, Czech Republic, 2008). I haven’t seen the first of these, but I can certainly recommend the second - a documentary study of a charming but incorrigible recidivist from teenage criminal in the dying days of the Communist era to roughly twenty years later, and the film was shot over the same period. Rene spends much of the time in prison, great political upheavals largely passing him by, and although he occasionally turns his mind to something productive (such as writing), his lengthy self-destructive streak keeps catching up with him, starting with his decision to tattoo “fuck of people” [sic] across his throat.

Tuesday 28, 9pm: Elevator (d. George Dorobantu, Romania, 2008) - the mainland British premiere of another Romanian New Wave discovery, a practically zero-budget two-hander that seems to be well thought of.

Wednesday 29, 6.30pm: Homecoming (Heimkehrer, d. Jovan Arsenic, Serbia, 2004) and Revanche (d. Götz Spielmann, Austria, 2008) - haven’t seen either of these, but they both look intriguing, and the double-bill package is equally attractive.

Posted on 22nd April 2009
Under: Festivals, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Serbia, Austria | No Comments »

Sarajevo 2006/2008

When I started this blog just over a year ago, I did so with a long list of ambitions, chief among them being that I was going to keep the promise of its subtitle “a survey of Central and Eastern European cinema” by visiting the Gdynia, Plzeň, Budapest and Sarajevo Film Festivals every year and thereby end up sampling the vast majority of the region’s cinema. (The first three festivals round up almost every Polish, Czech and Hungarian feature made in the previous twelve months, while Sarajevo screens a generous cross-section of work across the whole of south-east Europe).

Sadly, the demands of a full-time job, limited annual leave, and especially a young family (to say nothing of the expense) meant that this was never going to be more than a pipe dream - but I am at least going to Sarajevo this year (I should be en route right now, if this appears when scheduled), which would probably be my first choice out of the four festivals anyway. This is partly because I’ve been before (in 2006), so it’s a known quantity, but mostly because it means I can at least make a small step in the direction of correcting this blog’s rather overwhelming bias towards central Europe in general and the cinema of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in particular. My site logs frequently show people optimistically clicking on ‘Serbia’ or ‘Slovenia’ and usually being disappointed (unless they were actively looking for the longlist of Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations), so at least over the next week or so there should be plenty of new material on that front.

The full programme can be downloaded here (as a PDF). I’ll mostly be skipping the western European, Asian and American titles (which are primarily intended for locals who might otherwise not get a chance to see them - in favour of as much regional produce as I can fit into my schedule. I certainly plan to watch the entire competition (as I did last time), sample a fair chunk of the documentary strand and generally catch up with other south-east European films I might have missed or never had the chance to see. Fingers crossed I’ll have reasonable online access throughout (last time, the main Festival centre laid on free terminals, and my hotel claims to have internet facilities), so I’ll be able to post pretty regularly over the next week.

Anyway, I’ve still got several hours to arrive, check in, get my bearings and attend the opening night film - Aida Begić’s feature debut Snow (Snijeg) - and party, so in the meantime I’ll try to recall as much as possible of what I saw in 2006. Then, the opening night film was Corneliu Porumboiu’s delectable 1208 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, Romania), which I blogged about here (and reviewed at greater length in the October 2007 issue of Sight & Sound). The only thing the highly varied eight-film competition had in common was that precisely none of the titles achieved British commercial distribution. The standout for me (and the festival jury, which gave it the top prize and Best Actress) was the one I saw first: Andrea Štaka’s Das Fräulein (Switzerland, IMDB/Variety), a Swiss-set, Balkan-themed drama about three women of different generations and backgrounds (they’re Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, though they emigrated at different times, in at least one case before the early 1990s wars) who end up working in the same Zürich café. Thanks to two superb performances by veteran Mirjana Karanović and newcomer Marija Škaričić (either of whom could have won Best Actress - it went to Škaričić in the end) and sensitive direction that knows when to leave things unsaid, it crammed a huge amount into a brief 81 minutes.

Although they certainly had their moments, I was much less impressed with the next two films, Miroslav Momčilović’s Seven and a Half/Sedam i po (Serbia, IMDB/Variety) was a collection of seven short stories, all featuring a breach of one of the seven deadly sins, and all more or less equally mean-spirited, despite some inventive staging (each episode is given a different style) and occasional hints at greater depth. I was equally underwhelmed by Jasmin Duraković’s Nafaka (Bosnia, IMDB), though have to acknowledge that it was one of the festival’s runaway audience hits if the reaction at the screening I attended was anything to go by. This was unsurprising, because of all the competition films it was the one most squarely aimed at locals, and this sprawling, picaresque recreation of the siege of Sarajevo had plenty of crowd-pleasing set-pieces, even if it failed to add up to much more than a series of overt Emir Kusturica homages. One point of interest is that the treatment of the UN officials is every bit as cynical as that shown in Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land (2001), the surprise Oscar winner that put Bosnian cinema on the map at the turn of the millennium.

Much better was Antonio Nuić’s All For Free/Sve džaba (Bosnia, IMDB/Variety), a gentle, more than somewhat Kaurismäkian road movie in which a man loses all his friends in a single tragic accident, and decides to spend his inheritance on a mobile bar, which he drives from town to town - the film’s title revealing his somewhat unsustainable sales pitch (and it’s unsustainable in more ways than one, as local business don’t take too kindly to a rival giving drinks away). At around the halfway mark it turns into a love story, albeit one as bittersweet as everything else in the film. Rakan Rushaidat’s performance as the film’s well-meaning but hopelessly idealistic protagonist won Best Actor.

The next two films had an altogether steelier edge. Branko Schmidt’s powerful The Melon Route/Put lubenica (Croatia, IMDB/Variety) which set the tentative relationship between a war veteran and a Chinese immigrant whose entire family has drowned en route westwards against a well-drawn portrayal of the day-to-day operations of viciously amoral people-smugglers. The climactic bloodbath is hardly surprising, but grimly satisfying given the well-deserved payoffs. Radu Muntean’s Paper Will Be Blue/Hîrtia va fi albastră (Romania, IMDB/Variety) made an effective contrast to Corneliu Porumboiu’s film in that it actually reconstructed the Romanian revolution, from the point of view of an elite militia platoon whose mission is to prevent their colleagues from defecting to the anti-Ceauşescu cause, even though the dictator’s downfall is no longer in doubt (it’s set during the long night of 22 December 1989, after Ceauşescu famously betrayed on live television that he was no longer in control of events). Not unexpectedly, even these nominally ultra-loyal diehards have their misgivings, which creates much of the film’s considerable tension.

I don’t remember much about Péter Mészáros’s Kythera (Hungary, IMDB/Variety/Eye For Film), aside from the way it fused langorously beautiful images of an idyllic Greek island voyage with a far harsher account of the disintegration of a relationship. I also can’t give a fair appraisal of Faruk Lončarević’s Mum’n'Dad/Mama i tata (Bosnia, IMDB), because the DVD screener I watched was of an incomplete print that was lacking any titles or special effects sequences. That said, it was reasonably clear what was missing, and I’m not sure greater surface polish would have changed my opinion that this was a great idea for a short (it’s about an elderly couple whose drab existence is being broadcast to the world, Big Brother style, lending a voyeuristic edge to their final breakdown) that didn’t manage to sustain my interest when stretched to feature length. But it won the festival’s Special Jury Prize, so I may well have missed something significant.

Anyway, that was 2006. Now for 2008…

Posted on 15th August 2008
Under: Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Andrea Štaka, Miroslav Momčilović, Jasmin Duraković, Antonio Nuić, Branko Schmidt, Radu Muntean, Péter Mészáros, Faruk Lončarević | 1 Comment »

Home & Away

Not a post in tribute to the Australian soap opera, but an announcement about London’s fifth Romanian Film Festival, running from Thursday 10 to Sunday 13 April.

As with its Polish counterpart, it’s been growing apace over the years, though this time it’s as much to do with a surge in quality as any population increase. It’s at the Curzon Mayfair, and the full programme is listed here.

Feature film screenings include Cristian Nemescu’s tragically posthumous California Dreamin’ (Nesfarsit, 2007), Mircea Daneliuc’s The Cruise (Croaziera, 1981), Cristian Mungiu’s first feature Occident (2002) and Nae Carafil’s The Rest is Silence (Restul e tacere, 2008) plus feature-length documentaries: Dana Ranga’s Story (2003), Alexandru Solomon’s Cold Waves (Război pe calea undelor, 2007) and Razvan Georgescu’s Testimony (2008) and lots of shorts.

Sadly, it’s slap bang in the middle of my annual family holiday, so I can’t go to any of them, but I wish it well. (All links are to the relevant pages on the official site)

Posted on 31st March 2008
Under: Romania, Cristian Mungiu | No Comments »

Best Foreign Film Oscar longlist announced

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a record 63 films are on the initial longlist for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The full list is here, and these are the Central and Eastern European submissions:

Posted on 18th October 2007
Under: Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia | 1 Comment »

Sight & Sound on Romanian cinema

A small selection of articles and reviews from the latest issue of Sight & Sound has just gone online, including Nick Roddick’s admirably comprehensive report on current Romanian cinema, discussing the origins of its terrific run of artistic successes over the last two years, and whether this is sustainable given the parlous state of the industry.

The print edition also contains my full review of Corneliu Porumboiu’s delightful 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, 2006), which isn’t available online - but here’s the post I wrote about it shortly after attending the screening.

Posted on 24th September 2007
Under: Romania | No Comments »


Apologies for the lack of updates - things have been insanely busy over the past fortnight, what with the Ken Russell retrospective at BFI Southbank (for which I contributed a 75-minute illustrated talk and met the man himself a few days later) and various other work-related things - including an interview about Jan Švankmajer for MovieMail’s regular podcast series. (I finally bit the bullet and listened to it, and it’s not bad at all - I talk a little too fast, but that was partly because I only had the room in which we recorded it for a strictly limited period and was worried we might not be able to finish on time).

But I also spent the past fortnight working my way through PWA’s Anthology of Polish Animation DVDs, which were everything I could possibly have wished for. I ordered it from, for what my credit card bill tells me was a whopping £11.34 including postage, and it would have been a bargain at two or three times the price. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the history of Polish animation to comment on the choice of specific titles, but I can certainly confirm that there wasn’t a single title amongst the 28 included that didn’t have something going for it, and there were loads of discoveries - of the animators whose work I’d never seen before, Witold Giersz and Jerzy Kucia’s films made the deepest impression on me.

Even better, presentation standards were top-notch. I suspect a lot of restoration went on behind the scenes, as picture quality was startlingly good across the board, and the transfers were pretty well flawless - the only minor quibble is that the widescreen material wasn’t anamorphically enhanced, but as the vast majority of the films were in 4:3 that wasn’t a particularly big deal. The entire package is 100% English-friendly - although hardly any of the films had any spoken content, subtitles are provided for credits, other onscreen text and even song lyrics, and the menus are also available in English. The booklet contains biographies and filmographies of all the animators, and is fully bilingual in English and Polish. (There are also French menus and subtitles).

On the Eastern European cinema front, I caught a sneak preview of this year’s surprise Palme d’Or winner, Cristian Mungiu’s devastating Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile), which more than lived up to the hype. I also saw György Pálfi’s gloriously revolting Taxidermia on the big screen for the first time (which confirmed that this film really needs an audience to react to it), and finally watched his debut Hukkle on a decent (Hungarian) DVD - I’d previously reviewed both for Sight & Sound, but had to put up with timecoded DVD and VHS screeners.

Fingers crossed I’ll have time to write in more detail on all the above - I’m stuck at home with the kids while my wife is having a four-day weekend in Prague, so this might well be what keeps me sane.

Posted on 22nd July 2007
Under: Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Jan Švankmajer, Romania, György Pálfi | No Comments »

Latcho Drom

Technically a French film, but you’d never know, Tony Gatlif’s 1993 film Latcho Drom (which translates as ‘Safe Journey’) is an enthralling Cinemascope panorama tracing the thousand-year passage of the gypsies from India to Western Europe via Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. There’s no dialogue or conventional narrative: everything is told in songs and dances appropriate to the relevant country, presumably performed by musicians steeped in the right tradition.

(I say “presumably” because I don’t know, but the presence of Taraf de Haïdouks in the Romanian scenes - which someone’s uploaded to YouTube here - prove that Gatlif knew what he was doing, especially given that this film was made 14 years ago when they were far less internationally renowned than they are now. I think this film played a major part in building their current reputation)

The only subtitles cover the song lyrics, which - as one might expect - deal with the theme of being an outcast in whatever society one happens to be in (ancient India, Nazi Germany, Ceauşescu’s Romania), but these explicit themes very much play second fiddle to the vivid sense of place, colour, composition and rhythm adorning more or less every shot. It’s an exhilarating piece of work.

This film needs the best presentation it can get (there are loads of YouTube clips, but they’re not a patch on what’s playing in the background as I write this), but thankfully the Australian DVD (Madman) is up to scratch - it’s got a flawless print and transfer and lively soundtrack (it only seems to be plain stereo, not the advertised Dolby 5.1, but I can live with that), and the subtitles are infrequent enough for me not to mind them being yellow. It was also going cheap enough for me to risk an blind purchase (I’m reviewing Gatlif’s latest, Transylvania, and wanted some context), and I’m very glad I did.

Posted on 7th June 2007
Under: Hungary, Romania, Tony Gatlif, Slovakia | No Comments »

12:08 East of Bucharest

Last night I reacquainted myself with Corneliu Poromboiu’s delightful 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, 2006), a practically zero-budget Romanian comedy that scores spectacular value for money in the laughs department. I’d previously seen it last year, when it opened the Sarajevo Film Festival, screening in a gigantic open-air venue to an audience of 2,500 who, judging from the loud and enthusiastic reaction, enjoyed it as much as I did. I was expecting a Soho press show attended by a hundredth of that crowd to have a very different atmosphere, but it went down very well there too.

I stress the comedy element because Romania isn’t exactly renowned for light entertainment - at least in terms of the films that get international exposure. By far the highest-profile release in Britain to date is Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lazarescu, 2005), about the final hours of an elderly alcoholic undergoing the not-so-tender care of the Bucharest equivalent of the NHS. Brilliant though it was (my Sight & Sound thumbs-up is here), it wasn’t exactly a rollicking night out, and this year’s surprise Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Cristian Mungiu’s illegal-abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile, 2007), sounds more gruelling still. Even Radu Muntean’s The Paper Will Be Blue (Hîrtia va fi albastrã, 2006), which I also saw at Sarajevo, stresses the harsher, more violent and unpredictable side of the Romanian revolution, though it also works as a straightforward thriller.

By contrast, 12:08 East of Bucharest is a situation comedy in the most literal sense. Fully half the running time is taken up with a single sequence in a TV studio, with three people filmed head-on by a single wobbly camera. The one in the middle is Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban), increasingly harassed presenter-cum-station owner (like the film, it’s a low-budget operation), who rapidly comes to rue his plan to commemorate the sixteenth anniversary of the fall of former dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu by hosting a talk show featuring two people who claimed to have played an active part in the revolution. Neither of his guests was a first choice (most people have better things to do in the run-up to Christmas) and one in particular turns out to remember events quite differently to the people who ring in, their responses ranging from denial to abuse to libel threats.

Although often very funny indeed (with Mircea Andreescu stealing practically every shot he’s in as a bored part-time Santa Claus, whiling away the recriminations on the other side of the screen by making origami boats), the film has a serious point at base, which is that when great events happen in our backyard, our natural inclination is to exaggerate our part in them to the point where historians are left tearing their hair out. It was a particularly apposite choice to open a festival like Sarajevo, where practically all the locals in the audience would have had vivid memories of what they themselves did during their own recent historical upheaval - and it was clear from their reaction that the film was striking more than a few chords.

Posted on 7th June 2007
Under: Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu | No Comments »

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