|Mungiu shows off his Palme d'Or to many v proud Romanians|
I only learned about the new Romanian Cinema through David Thomson's book, Have You Seen, ... ? in an essay on Mungiu's near-masterpiece, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, which concerns a young co-ed trying to help her friend get an illegal abortion in 1980s "Golden Age" Romania. 4 Months won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and made Mungiu an international director/writer star.
Since then I have seen four Romanian films, including 4 Months. Three of them; Tales, 4 Months, and California Dreamin', are all truly great films, and should be essential viewing for any true lover of cinema. Of course, there are numerous other Romanian films out there that I need to see, just noticed from a v cursory glance on the internet, and then, also, who knows what other great films there are that I have no idea about, as well.
From what I gather, life in Romania today is not too much better than it was in the 1980s, but at least, it must be a wonderful time to go the cinema in Romania right now.
I read an interview with Mungiu that he wrote Tales From the Golden Age (an urban legend comedy) before 4 Months, but when he showed the script to younger Romanians that had missed Ceausescu's brutal reign, and they pointed out what a silly time that must have been for their parents, he decided to first write and direct a film about how truly awful it was to live during those times. Thus, 4 Months.
Tales From the Golden Age (or, at least, the version I saw) is actually six short films (three v short and three, like, one-act play length) that tell the stories of famous urban legends that were passed around amongst Romanians in the 1980s. Befitting a former Soviet-Bloc State, the film has also acquired a perhaps Urban Legend around itself. I saw six Tales (Legends) but I had heard that when the film traveled there were numerous prints cut, each one containing just five Tales, and that nearly each "house" or theater would get a different running order, and would miss out on one of the stories. I really hope that was true. And I wish I could have been a witness to it, because, what a brilliant idea that is, and so perfect and true to the spirit of the film!
The running order I saw was the three shorter films first, which mostly take place in the remote (and verdant, beautiful) sheep herding villages. The last three are concentrated in the typical Communist tower block urban areas.
The parts that stand out to me most, the things I love about this picture are: The colorful, gorgeous carousel; the red-haired singer in the first film; the numerous crazy trips up and down staircases in the second; the awesome wool shawl that the illiterate, cheese-making, regal shepherd wears as the activist is rolled out on a chicken and egg carriage; the whole fabulist bent to the school room scenes, a battle for a young girl's attention, between a poor, chubby smart kid, and the handsome, dumb rich child in The Legend of the Greedy Policeman; the party scene in the fourth tale; and the scene in the same episode wherein nineteen teenagers are craning their necks, smoking furiously, in the dark to watch a video of Bonnie and Clyde in the tiniest of bedrooms; the citizens being hoodwinked in each of their absolutely identical tower block apartments; the ending of the fifth episode (The Legend of the Air Sellers); and the end of the film and sixth episode, such hope and expectation on the lorry driver's face.
I thought the film would be bleak, a severe black comedy. But it is near wistful, detached, and ever so gently satirical. It is not mean-spirited in the least. It is a lovely creation, hopeful, and full of love towards all of its' subjects, no matter what their fate. It is a touching collection of fables that refrains from passing judgement on anyone, even the silly Party Members, who come off the most worse for wear here, natch. It is like a classical play comedy, full of fools, idiot leaders, and attractive ingenues.
It is a film that nudges me further away from politics, still. I am beginning to believe like Welles' speech in The Third Man. We will always be ruled by fools, fear-merchants, ideologues, power-hungry despots, religious reactionaries, and the like. Forever. It is what the ruled, the folks like you and me do with our own lives that is really important. It is the art we leave behind in this country that will drown out all the torture and imperialism and fear and war-mongering when all is said and done of the United States, perhaps the last gasp of Western Rule of this planet.
Art is what we must truly live for over politics today. Art.