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May 7 – May 25, 2019

Romanian Cinema Now

The dream of a truly political cinema embraced by Jean-Luc Godard’s and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Wind from the East (1970) would assume intriguing new shapes two decades later. After the fall of the Wall, signs of life from Eastern European countries enriched world cinema, above all with their excavations of stories long silenced or censored. Together with fellow artists from countries in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Romanian filmmakers distinguished themselves at international festivals, with the ultimate seal of approval arriving when Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. Romanian spectators were taken aback, puzzled and irritated by the enthusiastic international recognition for this cinema’s grim portraits of their country’s grief. Western viewers applauded these exercises in communist memory and post-communist recovery, extolling their intricate mise-en-scène, the occasional use of black-and-white, the ambitious widescreen or return to the Academy ratio of earlier cinema, and especially the often spine-tingling orchestration of the long-take.

The energies that gave rise to this Romanian New Wave in the first two post-Wall decades have not abated. Indeed, the creativity, thematic and formal, of an increasingly diverse group of filmmakers has produced a continuing array of noteworthy features. The films selected for this series bear the signatures of strong individual figures and, together, yield a compelling and surprisingly coherent larger picture. Despite a strained national economy, official corruption, and an ever-fraught political situation, contemporary Romanian cinema continues to flourish. It is a testament to the vitality of the contemporary Romanian cinema that it keeps finding new powerful stories beyond the so-called frame of miserabilism and the ever-present corrupted bureaucracy. If they are present in the background of such features as One Floor Below (Radu Muntean), Graduation (Cristian Mungiu) or Pororoca (Constantin Popescu), there is no opportunism at work here in these tableaus of dark days and hard times. Instead, the filmmakers probe their protagonists’ moral dilemmas, difficult choices, and often harsh endings, plunging into thoughts and feelings, while avoiding psychology (à la Bresson), by deftly shifting points of view, alternating claustrophobic interior shots with sweeping panoramas of towns and villages that no longer reflect the pre-modern traumatism of communism, but rather the conflicting priorities of a fledgling European Union country. These films find an initial acme in Corneliu Porumboiu’s 2009 Police, Adjective, a work that sets the stage for existentialist dramas determined by a policing apparatus. As a body, they constitute strong cinematic interventions reminiscent of both Dostoevsky and Kazuo Ishiguro, providing revealing and disarming cultural dialogues that have become a key component in this national cinema’s international success.

With their playful storylines and light spirit, the latest two features by Corneliu Porumboiu figure as portraits of a nation in which family life is central. Reading bedtime stories steeped in Romanian folklore and history or The Adventures of Robin Hood (The Treasure, Corneliu Porumboiu) is just as valid a narrative engine as preparing for a family funeral (Sieranevada, Cristi Puiu). These detached and kaleidoscopic visions define and redefine the family’s status, be it as a micro- or a macro-community. Intimate and introspective concerns, nonetheless, remain on view in the rich tapestry that is contemporary Romanian cinema. Leading a strong cohort of women filmmakers is Adina Pintilie, whose genre-defying exploration of intimacy and sexuality earned her the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlinale. Pintilie’s Touch Me Not (2018) is a film about the body, our perception of our own bodies and our perception of others as bodies. The aforementioned introspective exercises coalesce in a filmic universe far removed from the haunted venues of the communist past. More than other contemporary productions by fellow Romanian filmmakers, Touch Me Not focuses on a topic that is both personal and universal, precisely by exploring so closely the physicality of human being.

And then there is the prolific, original and irreverent Radu Jude who takes on sacred cows and does so with the greatest of glee. Perceived as critiques of contemporary Romania’s economic and social inequalities, his films allegorize historical taboos. From the brutality of anti-Roma violence in the 19th century Principates that would later become Romania (Aferim, 2014) to his take on Romanian Holocaust denial in the most recent ‘I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History as Barbarians,’ Jude’s cinema offers a heady blend of formal precision and authorial outspokenness. Among the sophisticated auteurs represented in this series, Jude stands out as the most unapologetic intellectual. He takes his place in a dynamic group of filmmakers well-versed in film history, past and present, and, as a legacy of the French New Wave, intensely well-read. For all their strength and maturity, these films stand out above all by dint of their intense cinematic intuition. New Romanian Cinema provides various forms of enrichment and above all, food for thought. – Codruţa Morari, Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Studies and French Chair, Cinema & Media Studies, Wellesley College

Special thanks: Boston Jewish Film.


Monday May 6 at 7pm

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Directed by Cristian Mungiu. With Adrian Titieni, Maria Dragus, Lia Bugnar
Romania/France/Belgium 2016, DCP, color, 128 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Having given up his own dreams long ago, middle-aged physician Romeo Aldea now primarily navigates his relationships with three women: an estranged wife, a frustrated mistress, and his teenaged daughter Eliza. It is Eliza’s big event the title references; he has spent years obsessively working toward that day, when she will be free from the constraints their dead-end province. Yet the day before her crucial final exams, an unfortunate incident proves enough of a threat to a positive outcome that he reluctantly resorts to asking a favor of a friend on the inside, which unravels a series of return favors, ambiguous threats, bureaucracy, pay-offs and ethical conundrums—embroiling him in the very corruption he has taught his daughter to reject. In Mungiu’s quickly moving, gripping drama, both father and daughter, stuck with a limited range of options, have to negotiate the sticky repercussions of an uneasy compromise—raising larger questions about the complexity of Romania’s present and perhaps, future. DCP courtesy IFC.

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Tuesday May 7 at 7pm
Saturday May 25 at 7pm

Scarred Hearts (Inimi cicatrizate)

Directed by Radu Jude. With Serban Pavlu, Ivana Mladenovic, Gabriel Spahiu
Romania/Germany/Belgium/France 2016, DCP, color, 141 min. Romanian and German with English subtitles

A stylistically rigorous and moving meditation on the inexorable dark forces of history that reshaped 20th century Europe, Scarred Hearts is an innovative adaptation of the eponymous autobiographical novel by Romanian Jewish writer M. Blecher, inspired by his struggles with Pott’s disease, a crippling form of bone tuberculosis. Set in a polished Romanian sanitarium on the eve of WWII, Radu Jude’s film maintains a fixed camera for most of its extended sequence shots, observing the ailing young writer Emanuel from a marked and often ironic distance as he adjusts to his condition and the constricting body cast that protects his deteriorating spine. Broken into episodes by title card passages of Blecher’s diaristic writings, Scarred Hearts lends a literary introspection to Emanuel’s daily routines and the romance that starts to blossom between him and a comely young patient. Jadu carefully describes the sanitarium as both a refuge from the outside world and a microcosm for the precarious tip towards fascism, pointedly revealed in anti-Semitic innuendos and an imprecise, creeping sense of malaise. Scarred Hearts nevertheless finds bright humor and human warmth in Emanuel’s small victories and the fragile camaraderie forged with fellow patients and sufferers. DCP courtesy Big World Pictures.

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Friday May 10 at 7pm
Saturday May 18 at 9pm

Touch Me Not

Directed by Adina Pintilie. With Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein
Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/ France 2018, DCP, color, 125 min. English and German with English subtitles

The most unusual entry in this series, Touch Me Not has surprised, fascinated and agitated audiences since its debut, even upending the most recent Berlin Film Festival by winning the Golden Bear for Best Film. Part documentary, part fiction, part therapeutic performance art, the film gets under the skin by focusing precisely on that very surface. Within mostly sterile-looking, well-lit, lab-like environments, Adina Pintilie probes varying degrees of uncomfortability with one’s body, including her own, in this emotional and aesthetic experiment, allowing the fictional and staged elements to function as, in her words, “a protective space—that allowed us to safely explore some of the most vulnerable areas of our intimacy.” She concentrates on three characters: a middle-aged woman afraid of many levels of touch, a young man who lost all of his hair as a child, and a man with a severe disability who also has the healthiest outlook on his body and his sexuality. With graphic sexual situations and awkward levels of emotional exposure—requiring a marked degree of nakedness on behalf of both the actors and the non-actors—the film treads where few dare: whether it is exploring various fetishes inside a sex club, sharing a bed with a philosophical trans sex worker or simply witnessing a couple outside conventional standards of beauty take up significant screen space with a loving, sensual relationship. DCP courtesy Kino Lorber.

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Friday May 10 at 9:30pm
Sunday May 19 at 5pm

Infinite Football (Fotbal Infinit)

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Romania 2018, DCP, color, 70 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Infinite applies to more than just football in Porumboiu’s deceptively casual documentary portrait of a passionate dreamer in the guise of a government bureaucrat. Like Porumboiu’s features, the film launches a humorous, compassionate and earnest inquiry into the puzzling motives and idiosyncrasies of mortals—particularly Romanian ones. And here, it’s as if Porumboiu accidentally stumbles into his subject—a surprising font of droll profundity—along with a funny string of incidental occurences and unusual personalities that pop up along the way. The film’s unlikely star is Laurentiu Ginghina, a brother of Porumboiu’s childhood friend, who still lives in Vaslui, the director’s hometown. Injured long ago in a soccer game, Ginghina became obsessed with a specific, though adaptable, plan to completely revolutionize the sport, making it less dangerous and more beautiful. Regardless of the scheme’s practicality or feasibility, what is unquestionably revolutionary here is Porumboiu’s ability to see through the mundane surface to the multifaceted—at times, metaphysical—treasures just waiting to be recognized and celebrated. DCP courtesy Grasshopper Films.

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Saturday May 11 at 7pm
Friday May 24 at 7pm

Sieranevada

Directed by Cristi Puiu. With Mimi Branescu, Judith State, Bogdan Dumitrache
Romania/France/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia/Republic of Macedonia 2016, DCP, color, 173 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Deep-seated fears and resentments boil dangerously on the back burner in the crowded apartment where a family gathering takes place, a ceremonial wake to mark forty days since the death of the paterfamilias and give rest to his soul. Unfortunately, the priest is late, and a host of seemingly minor altercations and misunderstandings build into an increasingly chaotic emotional melee centered around the dinner table where the meal is endlessly delayed while the drinks pour all too freely. Laced with often absurdist black humor, the enigmatically titled Sieranevada (purposelessly misspelled) seems determined to derail the dead man’s promised peace as family members punish each other by opening old wounds, all the while set on edge by the 9/11 conspiracy theories obsessively debated by two brothers and the unwelcome appearance of a belligerent relation. Cristi Puiu is one of the leaders of the New Romanian Cinema whose every film invents a new syntax and rhythm to ruminate with trenchant subtlety about history, politics and the terrors of everyday life. In Sieranevada Puiu again uses long duration—recalling The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)—to slowly tangle conflicting, clashing voices and points of view into an extended and disorienting endurance test for the film’s protagonist, an easy-going doctor trying to find a quiet corner to wait out the storm. The almost verité style camerawork embodies the film’s restless, at times desperate, energy as it tries in vain to enter crowded rooms, rarely able to find a clear point of view. The camera could, in fact, be the restless ghost of the deceased, who, outrageously, everyone seems almost to have forgotten. DCP courtesy Elle Driver.

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Sunday May 12 at 5pm

The Dead Nation (Tara moarta)

Directed by Radu Jude
Romania 2017, DCP, b/w, 83 min. Romanian with English subtitles

The stark poetry of Radu Jude’s documentary startles with an incongruent beauty and intimate horror. As the unearthed archive of photos from Costică Acsinte’s Foto Splendid studio—depicting the daily life of Romanians from 1937–1945—drifts across the screen, national anthems and politician’s speeches play. Interrupting the mysterious pleasure of these crisp, yet decaying photographs whose subjects—despite their staging and posing—appear to exude an unvarnished frankness, the narration of a Jewish physician’s first-hand account during those same years details the apocalyptic reality of the vicious plague descending upon the Jewish people. “So much darkness in this hateful century” writes Emil Dorian as only glimpses of the pogrom—a spate of fascist salutes, for instance—appear in Romania’s stoic face for the camera. The negative transference of Jude’s discordant audio/visual history, as a nation’s outer appearance masks its inner decay, eerily reflects the division between Christians and Jews deepening into a frighteningly grotesque chasm. Like the photographs’ decomposition which occasionally allows only eyes or a mouth to remain visible, the doctor describes the corrosion of humanity steadily eating away at Europe, one that also distorted and dissolved a nation’s very memory, which, for its citizens to carry on, seems to have been extinguished even before its formation. DCP courtesy Grasshopper Films.

Also screening as part of the Cinema of Resistance program.

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Sunday May 12 at 7pm
Friday May 17 at 9pm

One Floor Below (Un etaj mai jos)

Directed by Radu Muntean. With Teodor Corban, Iulian Postelnicu, Oxana Moravec
Romania/France/Sweden/Germany 2015, DCP, color, 93 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Radu Muntean masterfully weaves a tense moral fable from the fibers of everyday life, closely following the regimented work and leisure hours of Sandu Patrascu, an administrator in charge of car registration, as he goes through the paces and, in the midst of it all, overhears crucial evidence of a murder committed in his apartment building. One Floor Below slowly, meticulously, ratchets up the tension as Patrascu enigmatically guards his dark, festering secret and as the murderer begins to insinuate himself, menacingly, into Patrascu’s life. Like the late films of Robert Bresson, One Floor Below moves with a moral precision and mystery, a sense that larger forces, perhaps the heavy shadow of totalitarianism, drive the characters forward, almost without understanding of their actions and inactions. DCP courtesy Films Boutique.

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Monday May 13 at 7pm

Dogs (Câini)

Directed by Bogdan Mirica. With Dragos Bucur, Gheorghe Visu, Vlad Ivanov
France/Romania/Bulgaria/Qatar 2016, DCP, color, 104 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Despite beginning with the ominous appearance of a detached body part bubbling up out of nowhere, Bogdan Mirica’s first feature silently, steadily sets the notorious slow-burn of the Romanian New Wave to scalding. A crime-thriller with the minimalist existentialism of a Western, Dogs also pays ample respects to horror, as a familiar plot of that genre comes into gradual focus: the city-dweller intruding upon a backwater rural town that operates by different, darker rules. The brooding, enigmatic Roman—played by Dragos Bucur of Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective (2009)—surveys the remote “wasteland” he has inherited from a grandfather with a sordid past, while the local police chief investigates accumulating, unnerving evidence of a known monster further unhinging when its kingdom is threatened. With surreal, absurdist detail and subtle, painstakingly etched tension, the penetrating realism of Dogs reaches deep into primal fears of the unknown and in particular, a menacing, corrupt wilderness scarcely under control, a vicious dog on a fraying leash. DCP courtesy BAC Films.

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Friday May 17 at 7pm

Alice T.

Directed by Radu Muntean. With Andra Guti, Mihaela Sirbu, Cristine Hambaseanu
France/Romania/Sweden 2018, DCP, color, 105 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Muntean’s latest film is a portrait of a spoiled and recklessly strong-willed young woman whose obstinate decisions threaten to inflict immeasurable emotional and psychological damage on herself and her family. An adopted child with uncertain ideas about intimacy, the eponymous Alice first hides then flaunts her pregnancy, locking her mother into a tumultuous struggle that at times seems to be a strangely childish game, a clamor for attention, and at others a kind of dark misanthropy. First-time actress Andra Guti brings a raw energy to Muntean’s understated but powerful study of the stark gap between myopic parents and the youth whose addiction to cellphones and instant emotions is a symptom of callous indifference to human relationships. DCP courtesy Films Boutique.

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Saturday May 18 at 7pm

The Treasure (Comoara)

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. With Toma Cuzin, Adrian Purcarescu, Corneliu Cozmei
Romania/France 2019, DCP, color, 89 min. Romanian with English subtitles

In his latest feature, Porumboiu has honed his craft of subtle, dry humor to a marvelously fine point. With the remote, storybook promise of hidden treasure as the film’s driving force, it is the director’s knack for detailing daily minutia that takes most of the spotlight. Likewise, this outlandishly folkloric premise is taken in stride by its two searchers, neighbors who have decided to split the riches fifty-fifty if the less broke Costi fronts the cash for a metal detector to survey Adrian’s inherited and storied land. Neither ever break a smile when discussing their plan: Porumboiu leaves the amusement to his audience as the minor complications, doubts and bureaucracies accumulate and convolute. An unnerving tension gently mounts alongside the cynical movie-goer’s assumption that this pursuit cannot end well. The real treasure is the film’s surprising, mythic conclusion, the elements of which, Porumboiu keeps hidden in plain, everyday sight. DCP courtesy IFC Films.

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Sunday May 19 at 7pm

Pororoca

Directed by Constantin Popescu. With Bogdan Dumitrache, Iulia Lumânare, Costin Dogioiu
Romania/France 2017, DCP, color, 153 min. Romanian with English subtitles

Constantin Popescu’s film of a couple and their missing child is as realistic, as brutally immersive an experience as cinema can provide. The distanced wide-shots that replicate the experience of the uncontrollable chaos of life are the same ones which make it easy to lose sight of a child playing with others in a busy park, while the nervous, handheld tracking camera plummets the viewer into the sweaty, panicked palpitations of searching or following any stray leads. Popescu’s audience not only lives with Tudor—the father who lost track of the child for that single, most feared moment—they live inside his grief, his horror, his attempts to distract himself, his frustration with the police and eventually, his obsession with a man who regularly visits the park alone. Named after a destructive tidal wave which occurs in rivers, not oceans, Pororoca astounds in its unbelievable power to induce the audience into total identification with Tudor, even as he edges frighteningly toward the same indescribable darkness that took his daughter away. DCP courtesy WIDE.

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Monday May 20 at 7pm

‘I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians’
(Îmi este indiferent daca în istorie vom intra ca barbari)

Directed by Radu Jude. With Ioana Iacob, Alexandru Dabija, Alex Bogdan
Romania/Germany/Bulgaria/France/Czech Republic 2018, DCP, color, 140 min. Romanian with English subtitles

“These words,” explains Radu Jude, “spoken in the Council of Ministers of the summer of 1941, started the ethnic cleansing on the Eastern Front. The film is an answer to that phrase.” In examining Romania’s collusion with Nazi Germany and that union’s subsequent erasure from national memory, Jude breaks all kinds of cinematic etiquette in his provocatively playful dissection of history and its representation. The first thing to go is the fourth wall when Ioana Iacob introduces herself as Mariana Marin (not coincidentally sharing a name with the radical Romanian poet silenced under Ceauşescu), the director of a city-sponsored, public reenactment of the bloody Odessa Massacre in which thousands of Ukranian Jews were killed by both German and Romanian troops. Mariana’s own dictatorial bent and artistic vision are increasingly challenged by her ideologically diverse mix of volunteer players and even the open-minded city official trying to soften the edges of her audacious attempt at societal vivisection. Incorporating incriminating archival footage and photographs with extended dialogue sequences of intellectual exposition, and even the complex power dynamics within Mariana’s personal life, Jude’s film is not only interrogating Romania, it is investigating inherent problems with the creation and reception of political art even as his own unfolds. DCP courtesy Beta Cinema.

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