Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cambridge Film Festival 2011, Days 5 & 6

With all this moving to London business I didn't have that much time for the festival or the blog. I didn't see anything on Wednesday, so days 5 and 6 will refer to Thursday and Friday.

Day 5:

12:30: Afternoon of a Torturer (Dupa amiaza unui tortionar) This years festival has a section dedicated to the 10th year Anniversary of the Romanian New Wave. This includes five feature films (three by Lucian Pinitilie, selected by the director himself, and two selected by Anamaria Marinca) and one showing of several short films.
This film was made in 2001 by Pintilie, whose work helped the shaping of the New Wave and opened roads for younger directors. The Tarkovsky influenced film moves ahead slowly but shows a gripping tale.

Review I did for the Festival Magazine, "Take One":

Afternoon of a torturer

In one of the earliest films of The Romanian New Wave, director Lucian Pinitilie gives us a glimpse of yet another facet of the communist era and especially its effect on people long after it has fallen.

The film follows a young reporter and an old professor, who had been incarcerated and tortured in the sixties by the communists, as they spend an afternoon at the farm of a bee-keeper, who in his youth had been convicted of parricide and in prison educated to be a torturer of political prisoners, who in the eyes of the government where a far greater problem than mere murderers and rapists.

Years later he wishes to confess his crimes, to cleanse his soul, only to find that not many care about what he has to say. Not his wife, nor his son, not even his victims. So he must contend with a guilty conscience.

The near-plotless film is heavily dialogue driven, most scenes taking place around a table where the three discuss. But expect no Tarantino-style quick and witty lines, as in many other current Romanian films, there is a minimalist approach, with long, still shots following the slow moving, often interrupted, dialogue, intertwining these scenes with a selection of symbolic images of ghosts past.

A film which has laid the basics of the New Wave, it poses the question of what is evil and what is its legacy, throwing black and white into a grey area.

Day 6

13:30: The Paper Will Be Blue (Hirtia va fi albastra): A powerful, even if confusing, film by Radu Muntean with Radu Ipate, Andi Vasluianu (in a brilliant performance) and Dragos Bucur.

This 2006 film by Radu Muntean focuses on the night of between the 22nd and the 23rd of December 1989, when in Bucharest the Revolution was in full swing. People were in the streets, the Ceauşescu’s had fled and Communism had basically fallen. Yet a full-out war was still going with several sides shooting at each other, even though nobody knew exactly on whose side they were now.
Costi is a young man in a Militia unit on a patrolling mission through the streets. Seeing civil revolutionaries celebrating freedom and fighting to the defend it, he deserts his unit to go and fight with them. Not knowing what the final results will be, and not wanting to get into trouble, the commander of his unit decides to go looking for him.
What follows is a record of the chaos which has dominated those final moments of the Revolution. There is violence, there are gun battles, yet nobody knows what really is going on, with contradictory orders and contradictions dominating the scene.
Watching the film you will find yourself confused as to what the motivation of some of the characters are, or who exactly is pro- and who is antirevolution, but this is the confusion you share with the characters themselves.
Despite the ambiguity, the things which remain clear are the human emotions, the fear of death, the desire for freedom or a mother’s worry for a son gone missing. These being the elements which deliver a strong and engaging film.

18:15: Tridentfest 2011: For those who don't know, Tridentfest is a sort of festival within the festival showing films made by Arts Picturehouse (the main venue of the festival) employees, who prove to be very talented writers/directors/actors. From 1 minute films which make not much sense but are hilarious, through 5-10 minute more serious attempts and leading to the 30 minute epic "The Purple Fiend" it was greatly enjoyable throughout (and very silly indeed). You can see the films and learn more about the guys on Project Trident.

20:30: Occident + Discussion: Cristian Mungiu's hilarious debut (between this and "Tales from a Golden Age" it is hard to believe that this is the man who made "4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days"), the film which kick-started the Romanian New Wave, opened the road to Cannes and other festivals. Although a comedy, the film doesn't lack a solid backbone, with a Pulp Fiction style triple-parallel story and engaging characters (and Ioan Gyuri-Pascu).

Anamaria Marinca was supposed to be present at the screening and afterwards participate in a discussion with Verena von Stackelberg (a German enthusiast of Romanian Cinema, who helped put the section together) and film-critic Steve Williams. Unfortunately she couldn't be present, so the organizers thought that any Romanian will be better than none, which is why at the start of the film I was invited to participate in the discussion. Apparently I didn't do to bad in a discussion focusing on the cause and past of the Current and its possible future.

“A Romanian comedy?” I heard someone asking in disbelief after the film was over. And truly, the main memories evoked by the words “Romanian New Wave” are usually tedious long shots of aborted babies and people walking. It is no wonder then that it is hard to believe that one of the founding films of the new wave, Cristian Mungiu’s (yes the one who bagged a Palme d’Or with “that abortion film” as critics like to call it) 2001 hit “Occident”, is a hearty comedy. But fret not, if you have come to see people coping with a society crippled by 40 years of Communism, you will not be disappointed, for this is exactly what the films delivers. But in their problems and tragedies humour somehow found its place.
In a “Pulp Fiction” inspired triple narrative, we learn the stories of: 
-two lovers, one of which wishes to leave the Go-forsaken country for a better life in the West;
-a girl being abandoned at the altar, and her mother trying to find her a suitable husband via an agency, from, you’ve guessed it, the West;
-a man coming back to Romania from the West in order to return the belongings of a friend who has passed away there.
It is a delightful film with a surprising craft in combining humour and drama, the latter feeling close to what real life might have to offer. The added bonus of a brilliant cast make this one of the feel-good winners of this Festival. 

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