Romania's 'dysfunction makes its cinema great' say directors

Bucharest (AFP) - Post-communist Romania may suffer from corruption, incompetence and broken dreams -- but it has at least given its booming cinema plenty to get its teeth into.

This year's Cannes film festival has no fewer than three films in the official selection -- a major feat for even big movie-producing countries, never mind the EU's second poorest member.

Two are in the running for the top prize, the Palme d'Or, including director Cristi Puiu's highly-rated "Sieranevada", which premieres Thursday.

Like most of the new wave of Romanian films, it takes an uncompromising look at the country's woes.

"There is an economic and social situation that is making Romanian cinema blossom," Antoine Bagnaninchi, head of the Independenta Film distribution company, told AFP.

He compared it to the rise of Iranian and Argentinian cinema over the last two decades, saying there were "some similarities" in the history of all three countries.

Romanian films are "rebelling against a certain reality, a reality that is infuriating and at the same time stimulating," he said.

"Even if the film-makers do not project the best possible image (of the country), it is an image of Romania as an artistic and creative centre."

- Dysfunctional society -

The country's leading director Cristian Mungiu, winner of the Palme d'Or in 2007 for the harrowing "Four months, Three Weeks, Two Days" about an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania, returns to Cannes this year with "Graduation".

His new film is about fatherhood but also raises "questions about the responsibility of each of us" for a dysfunctioning society, Mungiu told AFP.

"We tend to think that others are always to blame, while we ourselves remain moral and pure, but that isn't true."

He said the film shows the dilemmas facing Romanian parents. "Should he teach his child to act based on principles? Or should he be practical, and teach the child how to survive" at the risk of perpetuating the wrongs that he himself has denounced.

Puiu's focus is equally tough: on a Romania that he said never stops "complaining", a society struggling to recover from the suffering inflicted by communism and the disappointment of the post-communist transition.

His new film "Sieranevada" was inspired by an "absurd" event that struck him during a commemoration of his father's death. It explores the resentments within a family in a world dominated by "hate and anger".

Since the Romanian revolution that overthrew communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, "we have been trying to take control of ourselves, but we haven't gotten there," said Puiu, who won the Un Certain Regard prize in 2005 for his film "The Death of Dante Lazarescu".

"Romania suffers from a sort of provincialism, it complains all the time that it is misunderstood. To get things moving, we must act ourselves, otherwise no one will help us," he told AFP.

- Public anger -

The third Romanian film showing at Cannes is "Caini" (Dogs), a thriller set in a remote village in eastern Romania "where the law is only an abstract concept", said director Bogdan Mirica.

While Romanian films receive accolades abroad, at home they struggle not only to compete with Hollywood movies but to be properly seen given the lack of movie theatres across the country.

But film-makers have also suffered from "the prophet in their own land" syndrome, with their downbeat stories sparking anger from some home audiences.

"When I made 'The Death of Dante Lazarescu' they said the film was well received because I had 'dumped garbage' on the Romanian healthcare system," Puiu said.

As soon as a Romanian director finishes a film, he added, "he has to get a raincoat and umbrella to protect himself against the insults that are going to pour down" from his countrymen.

Fellow director Mungiu admitted that "sometimes what we put in our films is not very nice, but if we don't like what we see, you should try to fix things."