When I first heard that the 2007 Cannes jury had chosen Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to receive its prestigious Palme d'Or, I was crushed. They had chosen the abortion movie, the "issue" movie, over an actual work of art, like Ethan and Joel Coen's No Country for Old Men -- how unlike them. This festival had routinely been ahead of the curve, honoring Orson Welles, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Abbas Kiarostami and Gus Van Sant while the Academy was busy doling out awards to George Roy Hill, Ron Howard and Mel Gibson. However, when I finally got a chance to see it at the end of last year, I realized that, once again, the jury had been ahead of the curve. They had identified a new movement, perhaps even a "New Wave," coming from none other than Romania. And I'm not talking about the werewolf movie Blood and Chocolate.
Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu opened to enthusiastic notice in the U.S. in 2006, and I chose Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest as one of the ten best films of 2007. And these are just the films that have been blessed with U.S. distribution. What do these three films have in common? Several actors appear in at least two of the films, and actress Luminita Gheorghiu appears in all three. Cinematographer Oleg Mutu shot both Lazarescu and 4 Months, and Daniel Burlac produced 12:08 and 4 Months. Yet all three films have a similar approach and a similar tone. All three favor long shots, and a slow patient buildup of small details. Each withholds its major plotline until well after the characters are established. It must be something more, something in the air perhaps. Perhaps it's something similar to what was in the air in France in the late 1950s, Hollywood in the early 1970s, Hong Kong in the late 1980s, Iran in the mid-1990s and Argentina in the early 2000s.