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Romania: Award-Winner Spotlights Country's Film Industry

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (file photo) (AFP) Romania made a splash on the world stage in 2007, becoming the film industry's feel-good story by walking off with two top honors at the Cannes Film Festival.

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu followed up his win of the Palme d'Or in May for his tale of life under oppression, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," by globetrotting to pick up top awards in Los Angeles and Stockholm, and best picture and best director awards at the European Film Awards in Berlin in December.

The filmmaker's successful run might not stop there. On December 13, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" was nominated for a U.S. Golden Globe award for best foreign-language film, and the picture enters 2008 as a front-runner for an Oscar for best foreign picture.

Ceausescu's 'Golden Age'

Mungiu's efforts are focused on personal experiences that bring new light to the realities of communist Romania.

Mungiu's groundbreaking "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," already being called a masterpiece in some circles, is the first in a series of pictures envisaged by the director to expose the realities of living under oppression. "Tales From The Golden Age," as the series is called, draws on human stories to paint a realistic picture of life in Romania under the rule of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, without specifically focusing on the regime.

Aside from bringing some of his country's darkest days to light, the 39-year-old Mungiu tells RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, the approach has helped fuel the comeback of Romania's film industry.

"I myself think it is the result of individual efforts by a generation with an exceptional talent for cinema," Mungiu says, "a generation that all of a sudden understood that a film today means going back to storytelling, a very passionate and honest way of telling a story, also a modern one, and not using a storytelling technique that says nothing to the moviegoer."

In the case of the award-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," the total repression in Romania in the late 1980s is depicted through the story of a young woman who is forced to go underground to seek an abortion.

Following a ban on abortion in the late 1960s, Romania experienced baby booms. But the law also led to a huge increase in the number of women who had to resort to illegal abortions, which could lead to lengthy jail sentences for both patient and doctor. The abortion ban was among the first laws lifted following Ceausescu's fall from power.

In "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," the expecting Gabita and her best friend soon find that in seeking assistance, they fall prey to others seeking to capitalize on their dire situation. At one point, when confronted with a demand that she decide about the fate of her unborn baby, Gabita says wanly: "I feel sick. I can't believe this is happening. What do I do now?"

After winning the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes, director Mungiu admitted that the film took shape at the last minute and with budget problems. He also expressed his hope that "this award will be good news for small filmmakers from small countries."

Other Notable Successes

The Cannes jury was also kind to another Romanian entry, the late Cristian Nemescu's "California Dreamin'," which won the Un Certain Regard. Just two years ago, in 2005, the same award was handed to another Romanian director, Cristi Puiu. Puiu's "The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu" depicts discrimination in Romania's health-care industry. In 2004, Puiu's "Cigarettes and Coffee" earned a Golden Bear for best short film at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Mungiu tells RFE/RL that the emergence of Romanian filmmakers is in itself a crowning achievement, considering they did not benefit from association with a traditional "film school" such as those in other countries.

"The reform of the institutional film-industry system, a reform in which we are also involved, has been done to the point that every year more and more young filmmakers were given the chance to make their debut," Mungiu says. "At the end of the '90s, there was a debut once in two years; today we have four, six, even eight filmmaker debuts each year. And if there are real talents among them, that will be seen."

The reward, likely coming soon to a theater near you, is the chance to watch the development of a new, "Romanian school."

(reporting by RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service and contributions by RFE/RL's Mike Scollon)

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