The 18th edition of Romania’s biggest film festival kicks off on Friday, May 31, and until the reviews and opinions start pouring in and the winners are announced at the end of next week, here are some of the most interesting movies shown and/or awarded during its previous editions, to get you in the mood.
Transilvania International Film Festival, or simply TIFF, is one of the most important international film festivals in the region and has been growing steadily and rapidly. Its section dedicated to national cinema, the Romanian Film Days, gathers most of the festival’s guests and regular audience members, making it an ever sold-out, buzzing event showcasing most titles from the previous or recent year, and (most excitingly) many premieres. To list all the awards, or the most well-known productions even, is an impossible task within the frame of this review, so here is a purely subjective selection of the films I found most memorable in the past few years.
Last year’s winner, Constantin Popescu’s Pororoca (2017) is a shattering tale of a child gone missing and the disintegration of its parents, particularly the father’s, and is carried by impressive, fearless acting. Anything shown by Radu Jude, whether The Dead Nation (2017) or Aferim! (2015), or older titles, was just as good, as was every single year showing a Corneliu Porumboiu feature. One of the drollest and most entertaining films of the versatile director is The Treasure (2015), about a group of hapless guys looking for a treasure in a garden, a brilliant, hilarious take on a classical motif. Another film that stayed with me for a long time, although it has basically disappeared after having been screened there, was Alexandra Gulea’s Matei Child Miner (2013), a gorgeously shot drama about a taciturn teenage boy growing up with his grandfather in a poor mining town. Although not a perfect picture, I found its visual beauty overwhelming.
Speaking of lesser-known films, there have been so many remarkable documentaries, such as Gheorghe Preda’s eye-opening Camera Obscura (2016), about private film clubs held in communist times, or Șerban Georgescu’s endearing, earnest and ultimately heartbreaking Cabbage, Potatoes and Other Demons (2016). Oana Giurgiu’s gorgeously designed and lovingly documented tale on the history of Romanian Jews, Aliyah Dada (2015), gathered more public attention, as did Alexandru Solomon’s fascinating Tarzan's Testicles (2017), which has a most bizarre subject: a research centre in Abkhazia founded in the 1920s by a Russian scientist who wanted to create a human-ape hybrid. Another documentary that stayed with me for a long time, and collected many major awards, rightfully so, is Alexander Nanau’s fantastic Toto and His Sisters (2014), a touching story of three Roma siblings trying to get by while their mother spends her last months in prison.
But nothing could have prepared the audience for Tom Wilson’s daring, mind-blowing The Bucureşti Experiment (2013), about psychological engineering experiments in the wake of the 1989 Revolution. The pic made people jump in their seats at the end and saying more would be too much of a spoiler. There are some tonal inconsistencies here, but I admire its courage of talking honestly about the horrors of the communist regime, and especially how it made all our jaws drop.
Speaking of jaws dropping, who could ever forget Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015) once seen, in which a crazy fan tries to convince Anne Hathaway to star in his film by showing her his directorial skills, aided by three unsuspecting actresses. Things take a turn for the creepy and the gory, making almost half of the audience leave during the screening. For those who stayed, though, this was hilarious, and I am convinced that director, writer, and actor Adrian Țofei is a true original.
To end on a less debatable note, nobody could deny either that one of the best projections in festival history was that of Cristi Puiu’s masterpiece Sieranevada (2016). Watching a family drama unfold in real time in a crammed Bucharest apartment was one of the most animated screenings I have ever attended.
Most of these titles are carried by Cărturești as DVDs in case you want to watch some again.
By Ioana Moldovan, columnist; [email protected]
(Photo source: TIFF Facebook page)
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