Streaming Spotlight - Romanian filmmakers

Inspired by Radu Jude winning Berlin's Golden Bear, we take a look at other films to catch from his homeland

by Amber Wilkinson

Aferim!
Aferim! Photo: Silviu Ghetie
This week we've taken our inspiration from the Berlin Film Festival, which ran its online edition earlier this month. Although the festival was virtual, it retained its juried competition and Romanian director Radu Jude took home the prize for his pandemic sex-tape satire Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, which we will be bringing you a review of soon. Jude's success makes his film the third from Romania to take the Golden Bear in the last decade, following on from Child's Pose in 2013 and Touch Me Not in 2018. Unlike some other nations, much of Romania's film recent film output is available to stream internationally - so we've selected some of the the Romanian New Wave and beyond.

Aferim, Amazon, £2.49

If you're new to Radu Jude's work, then this historical road-movie-cum-western, shot in crisp black and white, is a great place to start. Despite being set in the 1830s, tracking a Constandin (Teodor Corban) and his son Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) on a 'wild slave chase' through the Romanian countryside, as they hunt escaped "gypsy" Carin (Cuzin Toma), Jude is very much concerned with the attitudes of the present as he uses black humour to explore the origins of racism. The title translates as "Bravo!", and the irony runs thick through a film that holds feudal attitudes up for ridicule, while also showing how tempting it is to conform to even the most barbarous elements of a society - something as true today as it ever was. Jude's film struck such a strong chord on release in his homeland that the director received death threats - you can read us what he told us about that here, plus read our full review.

Collective, Amazon, £3.49

It's not just Romanian fiction features that have been receiving awards heat. Alexander Nanau had previously made waves on the international festival circuit with Toto And His Sisters, and this damning documentary about the aftermath of nightclub fire that left 37 dead, became the first documentary to be nominated from the country for the Oscars. The confidence in it is not unfounded as it became the first Romanian film to ever make the Oscars Best International Feature shortlist as well as snagging a nomination in the Documentary category. Beginning with harrowing scenes from the fire itself - which though a tough watch, are justifiable - Nanau's film goes on to take a deep dive into what happened next, as medics and bureaucrats, incompetence and corruption lead to the death of many with what should have been survivable injuries. Nanau takes his lead and his speed from investigative journalist Catalin Tolontan and his team, as they begin to dig into the case and uncover a disinfectant scandal. Fast-paced and urgent, this is not just a documentary about the specific case in Romania but also shines a light on the way cover-ups and rule flouting can breed anywhere, particularly when they have the backing of "populist" media. Read our full review.

Child's Pose, £3.49

Calin Peter Netzer's Golden Bear winner has an almost unnerving intensity as he scrutinises the moral disintegration of an upper class woman who is determined to save her son from jail after he knocks down and kills a child. Much of its power lies in the flinty central performance from Luminita Gheorghiu, who exerts maximum control on everyone in her orbit. Although flawed and, in many ways monstrous, Netzer and his co-writer Razvan Radulescu also bring out the tragedy of the situation. Read our full review.

Pororoca, Flix Premiere (subscription but with free 30-day trial)

Bogdan Dumitrache is a Romanian name to look out for and he commands the screen in Constantin Popescu's tale of the way that grief gradually consumes Tudor after the death of his child, leading to increasingly obsessive and angry behaviour. Everything about him is in decline, from his mental state to his physical wellbeing - something Dumitrache is particularly good at articulating and which can also be seen in recent Hungarian film Spiral.Popescu emphasises this disintegration by emphasising the normality that surrounds Tudor as the father's desperation mounts. Read our full review.

The Whistlers, Netflix

Like, Radu Jude, Corneliu Porumboiu doesn't like to get stuck in a single genre, with his back catalogue including everything from police procedural (Police Adjective, with which this film shares some DNA) to dark comedy (12:08, East of Bucharest) and documentary (Infinite Football). His most recent film is a noir-inflected tale of cross and double cross, with its complicated but satisfying plot involving money laundering, police corruption and a whistling language used on the Canary Island of La Gomera, from which the film takes its title. Pacy and twisty, with the odd nod to the likes of Hitchcock, this is a neat noir that doesn't take itself too seriously. Read our full review.

The Death Of Mr Lazarescu, Amazon, Netflix

There is comedy of the deepest black in this tale of one man's progress through the Romanian health system over a single night - and given that it was made in 2005, if you watch this and the much more recent Collective in tandem, you might wonder if much has changed. Mr Lazarescu, as we can see from the film's title, might as well be dead to begin with, but that only helps Cristi Puiu ensure that we focus completely on what happens to him as this borderline alcoholic with a headache as he waits for an ambulance and then finds himself shunted from pillar to post on his way to meet his maker. Puiu puts in the work with the characters Lazarescu encounters, not just to create moments of humour but also shine a spotlight on human behaviour more generally, for good and ill. Read our full review.

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Amazon, GooglePlay and other platforms, from £2.49

Cristian Mungiu is also a close observer of the complexities and failings of humanity and he caused waves on the international stage with this, his second film. His story, about a girl trying to help her friend have an abortion during the Eighties rule of Ceaucescu, grips you almost in a stranglehold from first to last. Mungiu takes us through the mill with the two women, refusing to look away or offer respite as the grim brutality of what happens unfolds. As with Puiu's The Death Of Mr Lazarescu, Mungiu uses a constrained time period to fuel the tension that while focusing on the intimate and individual also eviscerates the political landscape of the time. This is not an easy watch but you won't forget it. Read our full review.

We're returning to domestic drama for our short selection, Adrian Sitaru's The Cage, which sees its intense drama play out on a small scale after a boy brings home an injured bird.

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