Past Imperfect,

Romanian Film Festival
4th edition
26-29 April 2007

Curzon Mayfair
38 Curzon Street
London W1J 7TY

12:08 East of Bucharest

Feature film / Romania / 2006 / 89 min / colour / English subtitles
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

This film will be released by Artificial Eye in selected cinemas nationwide on 21 September 2007


Ion Sapdaru, Mircea Andreescu, Teodor Corban


At 12:08 p.m. on December 22, 1989, Romanians were glued onto their TV sets watching Nicolae Ceausescu flee in a helicopter from his presidential palace. Now it’s December 22 again, sixteen years after the Revolution. We are in a small provincial town and Christmas is coming. A retired old man and an alcoholic history teacher are brought together by the owner of the local TV station, to face History and answer a major question: Did they truly have a Revolution in their town, or rather, did they just watch it on TV while happening elsewhere, ‘at the centre’?


View the full script here (Romanian only).


“A deadpan comedy that evolves into a wry, politicized examination of truth, 12:08 East of Bucharest reconfirms - on the heels of last year's Death of Mister Lazarescu - Romania’s emergence as a budding cinematic Mecca”.
(Nick Schager, SLANT Magazine)

“This buoyant little comedy puts its finger on the problem in the best tradition of East European humour, savvy but concrete, gentle but sharp as a knife.” (Deborah Young, Variety)

Director’s Statement

“My film is about marginalisation and appearances. I was attracted to the idea of seeing what happened in December 1989 in the country’s smaller towns. This is why I chose to shoot the film in my hometown. What you see in the film is the reality of where I grew up: Vaslui.”


Caméra d’Or and Label Europa Cinemas Award at Cannes 2006
Best Film at Transylvania International Film Festival 2006
2007 Independent Spirit Awards Nominee for Best Foreign Film


Born in 1975, Vaslui, Romania. Graduated in 2003 from The National University of Drama and Cinematography in Bucharest.

Selected Filmography

2006: 12:08 East of Bucharest; feature film; 89 min, colour – writer and director
2003: Liviu’s Dream; short film, 39 min, colour – writer and director
2003: A Trip to the City; short film, 19 min, colour – writer and director
2001: Love Sorry; short film, 5 min, b/w – writer and director
2002: Temporary Suspended Line; short film, 14 min, b/w – writer and director
2002: Gone with the wine; short film, 9 min, colour – writer and director
2000: Graffiti; short film, 7 min, colour – writer and director


The literal translation of the original title is ‘Was there or was there not?’.
12:08 East of Bucharest is one of the three films featured in this year’s programme that multiply the perspectives on Romania’s ‘total event’ from December 1989. Porumboiu’s spicy film is a both genuine and concerned engagement with Romania’s recent past. It plays on the border between bittersweet and absurdist humour, and was perceived by the international press as a sort of ‘Charlie Rose as imagined by the Czech New Wave’. When History is written by a retired Santa Claus in a shabby provincial TV studio, there is no room left for grandiose statements. Here, the gap between the mythology of the Revolution and one’s memories about it take hilarious but also deeply humane proportions.

European cinemas have always been largely low budget, as described by what a film scholar once called ‘the aesthetics of almost-poverty’. In the case of Porumboiu’s film, this translates into the decision (which is both aesthetic and economic), to stay stuck within the TV studio and settle for the TV-show format. 12:08 is part of a regional tradition of anti-spectacular cinema which uses a sparse mise-en-scene for maximum effect, and proves that ‘one can be minimalist with panache’, as one film journalist remarked.

Porumboiu’s first career choice was Economics, and we can see traces of that in the imaginative funding scheme of his film, which matches the quirkiness of his style. 12:08 manages to ‘skip’ the national (i.e. Romania’s main film funding body, The National Centre of Cinematography), and to bridge directly the ‘regional’ to the ‘supra-national’: The film’s credits display the prestigious Cannes Cinéfondation (a competitive residence offered by the Cannes Film Festival to promising first-time filmmakers), next to a number of small local companies from the filmmaker’s hometown that accepted to invest in the film.

Porumboiu was fourteen in December 1989. The idea of the film sprang out after he watched a real televised debate on the subject of the Revolution. By the way, the rumour goes that the local TV station used as location for the shooting of the film has decided to keep the background photo used as a prop. Which means that if we long for a sequel we can always tune in to the real thing. (A.B.)