Romanian film review – TIFF’s finest. Part two: the shorts

While the previous column on this year’s Transilvania Film Festival was about my favorite long features, this one is all about the shorts that stood out. The films are released in three competition programs and are also screened before long features, showing the importance the festival organizers give to the genre. And rightfully so, as Romanian shorts have been reliably collecting international prizes for years. The most recent success is the third prize of the student competition (Cinéfondation) of this year’s Cannes Film Festival for Tudor Jurgiu’s clever we-break-up-we-don’t-break-up tale În acvariu/In the Fishbowl.

As usual, the selection has been a mixed pleasure. But this is also the great fun in watching these programs: you never know what you’re gonna get, to quote a famous film hero. Graduation projects stand next to films by professionals, documentaries mix with fiction and everything in between, high budgets meet the lowest of budgets. For early birds showing up for the morning screening slots devoted to shorts, there are always a few delightful surprises awaiting.

And this year there have been quite a few. The most laugh-out-loud discovery was Ioachim Ciobanu’s Grindcore, (trailer below) a demented story of two not-that-young losers hitting the town on a winter night to get some action. They first stop at their dealer of choice to buy weed but when he offers them some special pills instead, their odyssey turns into a mess which is hilarious to watch. Loud, fast, and profane, Grindcore is a blast.

Another blow, albeit in a completely different way, was Caseta nr. 4 / Alexandra (Tape no 4 / Alexandra). The film touches very graphically on the subject of the high number of rapes in Romania, making many leave the cinema at the first screening. It is uncomfortable and not for the faint of heart, but it shows a lot of guts and certainly a fearless directorial vision.

Claudiu şi crapii/Claudiu and the Fish is a lovable tale of a lonely guy working at the fish counter of a big supermarket. After a strange episode, the kind-hearted Claudiu goes on a mission to free his trouts. Touching and well-done, this has been awarded a special mention, an award shared with TIFF regular Ceclilia Felméri, who’s latest film, Pastila fericirii/The Pill of Happiness, is a very creative and very funny fantasy of punishing the ones who make us all so unhappy in everyday life, public servants aka the dreaded ‘funcţionari publici’.

I especially enjoyed two more entries, the documentary După fel şi chip/As You Like It, a delicate and respectful look at people choosing their tombstone pictures, and the comedy Betoniera/The Cement Mixer, a droll story of a man resorting to desperate measures after sleepless nights caused by the mixer next to his apartment building. Everyone who has ever lived longer in Bucharest can relate to the poor guy and especially to authorities solving problems their way, so you never know whether to cry or laugh at this one.

Radu Jude’s O umbră de nor/Shadow of a Cloud has been voted Best Romanian Short Film and this is no surprise. Jude has been an accomplished director of both long and short features and his latest pic rises to the highest of expectations. A drama filled with humanity and humor, this is a witty and profound look at our fear of mortality.

Eclectic in genre, themes and approaches, the shorts competition always paints a vivid picture of today’s Romania, its perception, and the creative minds it inspires. Thank you, TIFF!

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, [email protected]

(photo source: TIFF on Facebook)