4th Romanian Film Festival
14/04/2007 - 30/04/2007

Rejoicing under the title `Past Imperfect, Future Continuous', the 4th Romanian Film Festival will play at the Curzon Mayfair in London between 26-29 April. The core of the programme is a quartet of excellent features. But there are also a number of intriguing shorts and documentaries on display.

The great Lucian Pintilie returns with Tertium Non Datur, a featurette inspired by a story by Vasile Voiculescu, in which a high-ranking German officer visits a Romanian army base on the Ukrainian steppe during the Second World War. However, during the course of a meal, the rare stamp he has purloined disappears as it's passed around the guests. The shorts selection also includes Radu Jude's The Tube With a Hat, and Marilena from P7 and C Block Story by Cristian Nemescu, who died young in a car crash in 2006.

The pick of the documentaries is Alexandru Solomon's The Great Communist Bank Robbery, which recalls how the Communist authorities forced the gangsters who carried out an armed raid on the National Bank of Romania in August 1959 to recreate their crime on film for the edification of the nation. Exploring how fact was shaped into propaganda, this provides a rare insight into the murky dealings of liars and cheats on either side of the law. Also screening are Heart of the Tornado, Laurentiu and Agnieszka Garofeanu's portrait of exiled artist Paul Neagu, and The Man Behind the Bow Tie, Ivor Barladeanu's profile of another longtime London resident, Ion Ratiu, the leader of the Free Romanian Movement who returned to Bucharest for the first time in 50 years to stand for the presidency in 1990.

The events that resulted in the first democratic elections in decades are explored in three of the festival's four features.

Radu Muntean sets The Paper Will Be Blue on the night of 22-23 December 1989 and captures the confusion that followed the collapse of the Ceausescu regime. With conflicting reports coming over its armoured car radio, a militia squad detailed to patrol a quiet quarter of the capital begins to debate which way to jump to ensure it ends up on the winning side. But while Lt Adi Carauleanu is still afraid of reprisals from his superiors, doctor's son Paul Ipate has no qualms about deserting to help the insurgents defend the television station against Communist terrorists. However, he fails to reach his destination and Carauleanu has to search the city for him before they report back to base. Similar in structure and in its sense of satirical absurdism to Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, this starkly shot saga gets slightly bogged down after Ipate finds his loyalties questioned in a suburban house full of paranoid protesters. But the segment in which Carauleanu is fussed over by Ipate's mother and girlfriend (Dana Dogaru and Ana Ularu) is delightfully deadpan.

Sixteen years after that memorable night, a couple of guests on a small-town TV chat show discover that their recollections no longer coincide with the facts in the debuting Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest. The opening slice of wry realism reveals that liberty has done little for either drunken history teacher Teo Corban, who has to borrow cash from a Chinese shopkeeper to present his wife with some housekeeping after paying off his latest debts, or Mircea Andreescu, a testy old-timer who reluctantly agrees to reprise the role of Santa for the kids in his tenement block. Yet they're both ready to recall their part in the Revolution when pompous host Ion Sapdaru calls them at the eleventh hour after his original panel reneges. However, the programme soon descends into accusation and recrimination, as callers challenge Corban's account of his rabble-rousing patriotism and it quickly becomes clear that the town stumbled into freedom rather than striding along in the vanguard. Shooting the show in static public access style (apart from the occasional judder caused by a wonky tripod), Porumboiu keeps the focus firmly on Corban's fake heroics and the grudges, figments and prejudices that have been carried over from the Communist era to suggest a country still preoccupied with its past rather than anticipating its future.

Two years after winning the Palme d'Or for her short, Trafic, Catalin Mitulescu made her feature bow with How I Spent the End of the World, which boasts Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders amongst its associate producers. Set during the last year of Ceausescu's tyranny, the action turns on Dorotheea Petre and her younger brother, Timotei Duma, whose small acts of subversion reflect Romania's changing mood. Expelled from school for accidentally breaking a bust of the dictator, Petre drifts apart from cop's son Ionut Becheru and hooks up with Cristian Vararu, the son of imprisoned dissidents whose plan to swim the Danube accords with Duma's dream of sailing to freedom in a submarine with his scampish pals, Marius Stan and Marian Stoica. But while Petre loses her nerve in the midst of her escape, Duma's plot to humiliate Ceausescu during a choral concert is frustrated by the collapse of the regime. Confirming the excellent impression she created in Ryna, Petre exudes mischievous spirit. But Duma steals the limelight as the sickly sibling whose fantasies prove an amusing distraction from Mitulescu's deftly depicted realities.

Teenage insurrection is also the theme of first-time director Tudor Giurgiu's Love Sick, in which studious country girl Ioana Barbu arrives at college and promptly falls for city maverick Maria Popistasu. However, the course of their romance runs anything but smoothly, thanks to the interventions of Popistasu's possessive brother, Tudor Chirila, and a disastrous summer stay with Barbu's parents in rural Pietrosita. The flashbacking nature of the narrative occasionally feels fussy. But the scenes in which the excellent Barbu and Popistasu explore their passion are handled with easy sensitivity, while a dinner party with Popistasu's dysfunctional family is uncomfortably hilarious. Moreover, Giurgiu allows the unpredictability of life to leave the ending pleasingly unresolved.

Romanian cinema was never particularly prolific even in the age of state subsidies. But this admirable festival suggests an industry very much in the ascendancy.

David Parkinson