Yes, Julia Roberts has a big, adorable smile. Of course there’s much to love about Brad Pitt’s eyes. And beyond the gorgeous stars, there are explosions, fantastic effects, car chases, and even the occasional, glamorized peek into some forgotten corner of history. Hollywood movies have a lot to offer. But every so often, one gets a hankering for a different kind of movie. If you are feeling a little underwhelmed or restless when it comes to American movies, may I suggest filme romanesti?
I’ve always had a thing for underdogs. Romania is one such underdog (as explained by MA in a previous eleventhstack post). And the films that have been coming out of Romania in the past decade or so are turning this quiet Eastern European country from a cinema dark horse into a film force to be reckoned with. Story lines and cinematography trend toward the beautiful yet understated; screen writers and directors are patient and creative with dialogue. Also, Romanians maintain a wicked, sharp and dark sense of humor, which shines through with gusto in many recent films. I’m a total sucker for a wicked, sharp and dark sense of humor.
I find my cure for the common movie, Romanian films, in the Music, Film & Audio department’s awesome foreign film collection. Some favorites are listed below, but I suggest browsing the entire collection at Main.
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
This 2010 tale of a Romanian juvenile detention center focuses on Silviu, biding his time in an often brutal atmosphere until he can again care for his family. He is 18 and two weeks away from his release when he discovers his mother has come back to town. A few years earlier, Silviu’s crime of survival was committed to provide for himself and his younger brother. Despite having abandoning her children years ago, his mother wants to whisk off the little brother to Italy before Silviu’s release. Silviu was only able to endure prison by dreaming of being reunited with this little brother. Now helpless and locked away, he takes matters into his own hands.
The Way I Spent the End of the World
In 1989 Bucharest, Eva (played by Dorotheea Petre, who won an award at Cannes for her performance) and her boyfriend accidentally break a bust of dictator Ceausescu. Eva is sent to an alternative high school, while her boyfriend is spared punishment, due to his father’s connections to the communist party. The romance doesn’t last. Eva is furious, and plots to escape the country with a classmate. This doesn’t go unnoticed by her 7-year-old brother, Lalalilu. He loves his big sister, and so Lalalilu and his friends devise a plan to kill the dictator to avenge his sister’s punishment. This movie is a tragicomedy with a big heart.
A young police officer faces an ethical dilemma when he is asked by his superiors to go undercover and investigate a teen selling hash. Not only does Cristi believe that the crime is not so severe, but the government is about to change the laws to lessen the punishment for drugs. The police department could care less, and only wants Cristi to carry out orders, rather than question them. Police, Adjective is not the typical crime drama, as it avoids the typical good guy/bad guy dichotomy and instead examines individuals stuck in broken systems. In this sense, it could be recommended to fans of the The Wire.
Perhaps the bleakest of these film recommendations, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a dark comedy that doubles as a sharp criticism of Romania’s healthcare system. Mr. Lazarescu is a hapless widower with a fondness for wine, cats, and behaving cantankerously. When he encounters a bout of extreme pain, he calls for an ambulance. The ambulance arrives, hours later, and begins a journey across Bucharest, from hospital to hospital, and is rejected from each. Mr. Lazarescu’s pain increases throughout the hours-long trip, and the tension builds, with viewers left to wonder if he will get treated in time.