The paradox of Romanian cinema


Mihai Chirilov

Half of 2013 has passed and one thing’s for sure: with a Golden Bear in its pocket, for Calin Netzer’s Child’s Pose, Romanian Cinema is still “in”. Then why is it still regarded as Cinderella?
How many international successes are needed for the Romanian cinema to be finally taken seriously at home? One might expect the doors should be opened and comfortable conditions granted for Romanian cinema, yet there is less and less money for one of the best cultural products the country has to offer abroad and has done for some years.
Despite the constant reputation of the New Wave directors, their films have a hard time getting financed.
This has something to do, of course, with the economic crisis, but more with corruption – since there are several questionable films and film events (non-events, to be precise) that were generously financed by state institutions and no one could do anything about it.
Take, for instance, last year’s big hit, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, that was shortlisted in the Foreign Film category at the Oscars.
Nobody seemed to care that, in order to stand a chance at the awards, a solid budget for promoting was essential.
Once again, Romania missed a big opportunity.
Most of the Romanian films that win awards abroad don’t find their audience at home, though, and perform poorly at the box-office – which is a shame.
It’s true there aren’t that many theaters in Romania, which is a major handicap.
There are big cities with not a single theater.
There’s no consistent or systemic strategy designed to optimize the impact and the presence of the Romanian films on the local market.
There is no law to protect the visibility of the Romanian films in the cinemas, especially in the multiplexes.
The National Film Center is a compromised and archaic institution, marked every year by scandals, anomalies and corruption.
If you’re a young and emerging filmmaker you have to stay in line for years if you want to make your first feature benefiting from state money or simply give up waiting and turn to guerilla film making, private sponsorships and alternative solutions.
If there’s one positive outcome, albeit a small and debatable one, it’s that this major frustration that Romanian cinema doesn’t deliver at the local box-office has given space to a bunch of genre films, mostly comedies of dubious quality that hit the jack pot.
At least people are back in theaters to watch Romanian films and one could say that this is a sign of normality if we really want to pretend that we have a decent film industry, rather than just having some great films that don’t quite make money.
However, this year’s biggest festival hit, the Berlinale winner Child’s Pose, took the Romanian box-office by storm.
The future looks bright – though maybe it’s just a matter of perspective. Two upcoming major festivals, Locarno and Sarajevo, feature an impressive line-up of Romanian films.
Corneliu Porumboiu’s new opus, the highly anticipated Metabolism, leads the pack, by competing in both festivals, while Sarajevo has invited, and will feature a full retrospective of work by, Cristi Puiu, the most important Romanian filmmaker.
San Sebastian and Rome festivals are also likely to screen new Romanian films in their competitions this autumn while the most important Romanian film festival abroad, Making Waves, will return en fanfare to New York’s Lincoln Center this December, fully financed by private donors, American companies and through a successful Kickstarter campaign.
But despite making front lines last year in The New York Times, Village Voice and The Wall Street Journal, no state institutions in Romania supported this year’s edition with a single penny – Cinderella, anyone?
No problem, the Romanian cinema moves forward, like it always has. Maybe one day, people in important positions will take note. One could only hope that Luminita Gheorghiu, the magnificent star of Child’s Pose, will enter the tough competition for an Oscar next year, if given solid support, like she should. Great films alone are not enough. To maximize their existing potential, they need great care.