In the past decade, Romanian cinema has become better known at an international level as young Romanian directors were awarded prestigious prizes at the Berlin Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival. While most Romanian movies produced during this period are renowned for their minimalist aesthetics since they present stark images of the communist past and portray the present in mute color tones, many of them also focus on similar conflicting situations that require protagonists to take heart-rending decisions. Ethical problems are at the core of Romanian cinema. At a time when laws are revised and moral rules are re-evaluated, questions about what is right and what is wrong abound in movies from the post-communist period. Should one pursue a moral goal that is at odds with written laws? Should one assume an unethical task in order to help others under dire circumstances? How can a balance be reached between personal interest and public interest? These are some of the questions, which haunt leading characters in post-1989 Romanian cinema.
Whether located in the recent or distant past, the movies we intend to present raise disquieting existential and moral issues. In Calin Netzer’s movie “Maria” (2003), the female protagonist ends up prostituting herself in order to raise her seven children after she is sexually abused at work and her husband is imprisoned. Radu Gabrea’s film “Gruber’s Journey” (2008) portrays a highly troubling World War II narrative of a fascist seeking medical help from a Jewish doctor whose father has just been killed in a recent Holocaust mass murder. In “The Other Irene”(2009), a film directed by Andrei Gruzsniczki, a young man finds himself on the verge of despair, as he wants to spend the little money he has on investigating the mysterious death of his wife even though he knows that the detective search will bring him no peace of mind since his wife had cheated on him. “Police, Adjective” (2009) by Corneliu Porumboiu poses even more delicate questions. A young policeman finds it hard to do what is legally required because he feels that this would be morally wrong and would completely change the course of a teenager’s life. Ethical issues are also the main focus of Alexandru Solomon’s “Cold Waves” documentary (2008), which dwells upon the risks taken by the personnel of Radio Free Europe during communism. The protagonists of both fictional and real narratives, which stand at the basis of these award-winning Romanian movies, bear the burden of knowing that the lives of others heavily depend upon their decisions. Since they can hardly reach acceptable resolutions of these dilemmas, viewers feel compelled to reflect on how ethics are shaped not only by individual choices, but also by historical and social conditions.