In Praise of New Romanian Film
by Andrei Codrescu
I saw “The Earth’s Most Beloved Son,” the 1983 film directed by Serban Marinescu, at the Film Forum. It is a film of genuine gravity and immense power. Produced shortly after the 1989 fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, it is a work haunted by the still-fresh and unforgettable terrors of the dictatorship. The film is a hyper-realist, somber and utterly nuanced story of the gradual moral degradation of one man, a philosophy professor condemned to ten years in prison for a trivial offense. Arrested in the Stalinist era, he is released into the seemingly gentler Ceausescu epoch, where he finds himself in a bizarre world. After losing everything material, including love and friendships, he is compelled to make a living killing rats, along a drunken crew of barely human characters. This film is a touchstone from which one can trace the eventual flowering of the extraordinary Romanian New Wave that has attracted much and well-deserved notice. The gravitas at work here is still under the shadow of the just-vanished world of the Cold War, while pointing to the new decade of younger film story-tellers.
The Romanian New Wave did have roots in previously marvelous films and performances, as “The Earth’s Most Beloved Son” demonstrates. Most of the younger film-makers are imbued with the pathos, symbolism and poetry of their predecessors, who have given them them courage. The Romanian New Wave has been compared, rightly, to the Neo-realist Italian cinema of the 1960s. The Romanians have added a great deal of humor and imagination to contemporary film, while still rooted in a gritty and and well-remembered reality. After many successes, including the Prix d’Or at Cannes, and any other international prizes, one can barely imagine cinema today without the contributions of Romanian directors. The New Wave festival returns to New York every year with astonishing new films, alongside a well-curated archive. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
ANDREI CODRESCU is a poet, NPR essayist, and Emeritus chaired Professor of English and Comparative Literature. He has won a Peabody Awatd for his film “Road Scholar” (1993)