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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Coming soon: the films of Lucian Pintilie

Posted By on 05.02.12 at 09:54 AM

From Pintilies Reenactment (1969)
  • From Pintilie's Reenactment (1969)
Starting on Friday and continuing through May 13, Facets Multimedia will host a complete retrospective of the films of Lucian Pintilie, a man cited by numerous critics and filmmakers as Romania’s greatest director. Pintilie may be best known in the States (if he’s known at all) as a major influence on the Romanian New Wave: Cristi Puiu (Aurora), who cowrote his Niki and Flo (2003), has argued the current movement would not exist without Pintilie’s example (and in a recent essay, critic Mihai Chirilov notes, “When asked when he wanted to be when he grew up, director Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) answered: Lucian Pintilie”). As might be expected, Pintilie’s films have been praised for their dark humor and social critique.

This critical aspect of Pintilie’s art has had lasting consequences for the director. His second film, the political satire Reenactment (1969), so enraged the Ceausescu regime that it banned the movie and forbade him from making movies for the next 20 years. He returned at the state’s request in 1979 to make a film based on his international stage production Carnival Scenes, but that work was promptly suppressed too. For Pintilie, filmmaking represents an act of resistance to an oppressive culture, and this is purportedly as true of his post-Communist films (he’s directed six since returning to Romania in 1989) as of his 60s work. The critic Michel Chion writes of his 1992 The Oak:

Pintilie dissects the dispossession of one human being by another, and the cruelest is not the one you would expect . . . At the end of The Oak, after the lovers are reunited under the tree of life, the man tells the woman, “If our baby is normal, I will kill him myself.” This anarchist provocation strikes the hallmark of black humor and is a call for reflection and for refusing passive ideas. To the author, the “normal” person is the keystone of all utopia, meaning communism.

Reenactment paints a portrait in miniature of Ceausescu’s dictatorship. The tight narrative structure, which takes place over one afternoon, anticipates those of Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest. Two young men, arrested for fighting drunk outside a bar, must reenact the scene for a short educational film. The state officials directing them are more stupid than cruel; the shoot drags on for hours because of their incompetence. Pintilie observes them patiently and bitterly: it’s a sick joke that they’re in power.

Lucian Pintilie in 2011 (photo courtesy Transylvania International Film Festival)
  • Lucian Pintilie in 2011 (photo courtesy Transylvania International Film Festival)
For the greatest directors of the Romanian New Wave, cinema is a tool to expose social truths that had been impossible to discuss publicly under Ceausescu: state inefficiency, the nightmare of living under totalitarianism. The precise realism of these movies makes these experiences seem palpable, impossible not to discuss. Pintilie’s recent films contain both historical pieces (An Unforgettable Summer, from 1994, takes place in 1925; his most recent, Tertium No Datur, is set in World War II) and contemporary-set fables. It should be interesting to see in the latter how Pintilie depicts his native country after years in exile. In a recent interview he was asked, “When did you understand Romania better, before or after the Revolution that overthrew the Communist regime in 1989?” He answered:

When I saw how the dictators were riddled with bullet holes. How that was passed on in the language—from “murder” to “legend” and then into slang, and how it then became an expression used by the head of state . . . When I noticed how naturally Romanians discovered that murder was part of their nature. It was a Romania with no compassion.

Some of the films are supposed to be quite funny.

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