At the 2018 Transilvania International Film Festival, two low-budget Romanian documentaries stood out from the crowd.
(Poftiti va rog, Gazda)
Serestély Szilárd/ Mircea Sorin Albutiu
Romania, 2018/Romania, 2017
If judged solely by coverage in European media, one would be forgiven for presuming Romania is considerably smaller both in size and population than its western neighbour Hungary. Anyone taking interest in current affairs will probably identify the autocratic Prime Minister of the latter, Viktor Orban, the Putinophile whose proudly illiberal policies and regular outbursts have made him one of the most recognisable, influential politicians in the continent’s central/eastern parts. But few outside Romania could probably put a name to the face of President Klaus Iohannis or PM Viorica Dancila.
The latter’s relative obscurity is understandable as she only took office in January, assuming the position after street-protests about a proposed change to the corruption laws drove out Sorin Grindeanu who served less than six months in the hot-seat. Those demonstrations did make international headlines, but Romania has seldom penetrated the global consciousness since those heady days in December 1989 when long-standing Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was so suddenly and bloodily deposed.
«This year most domestic features at TIFF were tepidly received, but those venturing into the marginal areas found rewards.»
A likely factor: Romania so far has proven relatively immune to the populist wave that has engulfed much of Europe during the current decade, and whose progress the international news media charts meticulouly every day. But this is actually the seventh-largest EU state by population –19 million – and the ninth largest in area. On the former count it’s twice as big as Hungary for example, and size-wise it’s nearly three times as massive.
In terms of cinema, Romania – whose «New Wave» was identified by critics more than a decade ago – continues to pull its weight and then some. While Hungary did win the Golden Bear at Berlin last year with Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body And Soul, Romania scored twice in the last half-decade: Adina Pintilie’s Touch Me Not this February emulating 2013 laureate Calin Peter Netzer’s Child’s Pose. The century’s most acclaimed Romanian picture, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, landed the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007, an accolade which has so far eluded Hungary.
Five years previously Mungiu nabbed his first major trophy when his debut Occident won the Transilvania Trophy at the inaugural Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF) held in Cluj-Napoca. In the intervening 16 years Cluj has become Romania’s unofficial capital, and TIFF has likewise steadily emerged as one of the most vibrant film-related events in the ex-Eastern Bloc.