Old Reels, New Reels: Documenting and Re-configuring Reality in Romanian Film and Media
1.30-3.00pm, 3703 Wesley Posvar Hall
Discussant: Professor Andreea Deciu Ritivoi, Carnegie Mellon University (Department of English)
“From Excess to Minimalism: Romanian Film, 1989-2010”
Natalie Musteata, CUNY, The Graduate Center, New York (Department of History of Art, Theory, and Criticism)
In the last few years no country has garnered as much interest for its independent cinema as Romania. Dubbed by critics the “Romanian New Wave,” these films are described as “direct-cinema” or “observational-documentary.” This paper offers a contextualized reading of the work of three contemporary Romanian directors: Cristi Puiu (b. 1967), Cristian Mungiu (b. 1968), and Corneliu Porumboiu (b. 1975). Belonging to a younger generation nicknamed “children of the decree” or “Ceausescu’s children,” these filmmakers came of age in the late 1980s in the wake of the revolution and subsequent dissolution of the communist regime. I would like to suggest that their works are in fact responding to a set of films made in the 1990s by an older generation of Romanian directors such as Lucian Pintilie (b. 1933), Dan Pita (b. 1938), Mircea Daneliuc (b. 1943), and Stere Gulea (b. 1943), prominent filmmakers throughout the communist period, whose films are exemplified by exaggerated use of verbal and physical violence. To fully understand the radical shifts in style and narration of the contemporary directors, we must consider the ways in which their predecessors attempted to portray all the misfortunes of life under communism in overtly dramatic terms.
“Maria, Neither Saint nor Whore: Womanhood, Morality and Freedom in Postcommunist Romania”
Alex Lefter, University of Pittsburgh (Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature)
In this paper, I analyze Peter Calin Netzer’s Maria (2003) as a critique of Romania’s transition from a communist dictatorship to a free-market system and its impact on working-class people. I focus on the main character and look at the ways in which Maria’s gender identity and personal choices are shaped by the broader changes in social structure and by the emergence of new actors and institutions. My analysis will follow two directions and will argue that, from one standpoint, Maria’s fragmented identity as a caring mother, a victim of an abusive husband and, eventually, a prostitute can be viewed as a misogynistic depiction of the female subject unable to function outside of the patriarchal order. From a different angle, this seemingly stereotypical portrayal also interrogates the viewer’s values and the yardstick against which one chooses to either judge Maria as victim of herself or of the system or to not judge at all. These ethical aporias further signal the need to start examining contemporary notions of womanhood in ways that account for the particular circumstances that shape different women’s lives.
“Public Performance, Film Praxis, and the Framing of Values in Contemporary Romania”
Narcis Tulbure, University of Pittsburgh (Department of Anthropology)
My presentation operates with a very inclusive notion of film focusing on atypical products created by a diversity of actors, with unusual technical means, serving very pragmatic purposes, and employing a realistic perspective. Such films engender interesting questions related to authorship, the use of recorded images, the constitution of documentary evidence, and the formulation of broader narratives about values, politics, and social change. Using Alexandru Solomon’s recent documentary Kapitalism: Our Secret Recipe, I argue that the films stand out not only as a result of their powerful ethical implications, but also as a result of the cinematic techniques employed and the tactics used to promote them. Solomon’s documentary is an eclectic mix of filmed interviews with some of the most rapacious Romanian kapitalists, images of public protests organized by those who lost money to them, TV commercials for their businesses, animation, and archival footage meant to bring to life the phantom of Ceausescu seen as a remote moral evaluator. I conclude with a reflection on the usefulness and undersides of such media for contemporary Romanian cinema, as well as on the implications of employing such sources as “reliable” representations of the public performance of political figures.
Coffee break: 3.00-3.15pm
Self and Other: Ethical Praxis between Solidarity and Authority in Post-1989 Romanian Cinema
3.15-5.15pm, 3703 Wesley Posvar Hall
Discussant: Professor Irina Livezeanu, University of Pittsburgh (Department of History)
“Ethical dilemmas and moral ambiguities in Cristian Mungiu’s stories of the communist period”
Sune Bechmann Pedersen, Lund University (Department of History) and Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, Lund University (Department of Central and Eastern European Studies)
“ ‘Memories from the Golden Age’ is an attempt to recuperate the nostalgic part of our youth spent during communism, with its events, its customs and with our thoughts at the time” (Cristian Mungiu). 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days and Tales from the Golden Age recount sequences of the Ceausescu period using two different registers, dramatic and comedic, two complementary approaches in the portrayal of a complex reality. This paper explores Mungiu’s picture of the Golden Era of Romanian communism from the viewpoint of the ethical dilemmas faced by movie characters: Who are the victims and who are the perpetrators? The paper unveils some of the cinematic strategies employed by the director in order to deliver his version of the recent past and dwells on the moral implications of remembering the communist period in contemporary Romania. Is moral ambiguity the inevitable feature of any creative attempt to reminisce about the communist era, or should a more clear ethical position be proposed to stimulate public debate on its heritage?
“The Biopolitics of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 months 3 weeks and 2 days”
Eva Cermanová, Princeton University (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
My paper will discuss the biopolitics of Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a film that draws attention not only to the disappearance of the private sphere in a totalitarian society, but very urgently in all societies where forms of control have become largely institutionalized. Increasingly, these practices of biopolitical power, surveillance and control have blurred the boundaries between private and public spheres, rendering the human body the boundary par excellence that needs to be dismantled in order for the police state to fully establish or literally incorporate itself in the citizenry. My intention is to show how the proliferation of forms of control makes the body a site for the contestation of power. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is not a film about abortion per se, but rather adopts the biopolitical topos of abortion to bring into focus the specter of total depersonalization, in which human bodies become mere objects of manipulation and control. In this reading, 1989 does not mark the endpoint of the police state; rather the crude, brutal mechanics of Romania under Ceausescu offer a premonition of the contemporary ubiquity of biopolitical domination.
“Negotiating norms in post-1989 Romanian cinema”
Diana Popescu, University of Leiden (Department of Philosophy)
A defining feature of the communist regime in Romania was the excessive focus on what individuals owed to the state, as opposed to what they owed each other. As a result, one of the many difficulties faced by individuals, both before and after 1989, has been an omnipresent uncertainty about how they might be allowed (or required) to behave towards others in different situations. This has led to a constant negotiation of norms of proper behavior. I argue that such uncertainty about what norms are to be followed, as well as about the accompanying process of negotiation, is a recurrent motif of the ‘new wave’ Romanian cinema. Such diverse films as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, When I want to whistle, I whistle, and Police, Adjective present situations in which the characters – as well as the audience – are uncertain about what norms are in place. Firstly, legality, which might have been expected to provide guidelines, does not deliver a solution to the problem of ambiguous norms because uncertainty also extends to the legal realm. Second, these films depict the negotiation process itself as unfair, since persons with more bargaining power (e.g. in higher position of authority) set the terms of the interaction which is always unequal. Thus, the films draw attention to the perpetual state of vulnerability faced by people with lesser negotiating power in a society where laws and rules are evanescent.
“Gazing at History: Past, Present, and Subject (Re)-Construction in Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”
Antje Postema, University of Chicago (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Set in 1987 Romania, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is, according to the director, a “subjective, personal history of the late Communist era” in which “real people suffered small misfortunes under a big dictatorship” [Mungiu, 2008]. The film’s diegetic as well as meta-narrative ruminations on recent Romanian history prompt me to focus on the visually complex whole formed from its methods of observation and the concept of “ethical gaze” it elaborates.
The implied presence—and conspicuous absence—of overt policing in the film indicates the diffuse way in which Ceauşescu’s authority collapsed differentiated realms of public and private to position the state, rhetorically, as omnipresent, vigilant spectator. That the camera itself relies upon techniques that mimic such forms of surveillance seems paradoxical: the camera exerts control even as it allows characters to exist as subjects within the narrative. But in doing so, the film takes up the project of re-individualizing the subject, physically and ideologically, as the “embodiment of an integrated self” [Babăn, 2000]. By telling the traumatic story of individual bodies subjected to Ceauşescu’s abortion policies, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days attempts to reintegrate post-1989 Romanian citizens into a new, if unspecified, social body.