“Cinema not a mentality” (Pop, Doru Romanian New
“Cinema is the most important of all arts”. Whilst discussing educational curriculum with the first Soviet Commissar of Education, Lunacharsky, Vladimir Lenin reached this conclusion. Cinema was not only the most important of all arts, but he turned it into one of the most important ways of propaganda: by not prohibiting filmmaking, by restricting it to preach and highlight the benefits of communism and showing off a happy working class society turned the entire world of cinema into a controlling tool for the dictator.
This practice was implemented successfully in Romania in 1948, when the Decree 303 was signed: all productions had to be approved by the government, more precisely by the dictator Nicolae Ceasusecu. He turned Lenin’s words into actions to such a point where the Nationalisation of the Romanian Film Industry is known to be The Golden Age of the Romanian Film Industry. For the first time in Romania, there was a notable growth in production, directors and actors were recognised on a national level for their merit and the normal working-class people were proud to be represented in both fictional and non-fictional cinema. This apparent success was a man made well thought facade: communism gave the country the idea of happiness and fulfilment and the country assimilated it to the core.
Almost 30 years after communism was abolished in Romania by the execution of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena Ceausescu, people still find themselves talking about and , in one way or another, identifying with the communist regime. When Lucian Pintilie, film and television director, said “Communism disappeared as a regime, not a mentality” (Pop, Doru Romanian New Wave Cinema:An Introduction, 2014) he put into a few words what others showed through dozens of hours of motion pictures; his observation reflects a primary theme found in most of the Romanian New Wave films (RNW)- communism during his existence in Romania from 1947 to 1989 and its traces in a post-communist Romanian country. The strong influences found in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”(2005) directed by Cristi Puiu and “4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days”(2007) directed by Cristian Mungiu are considered inevitable due to the fact that both directors lived through this regime during their childhood.
In 1954 Raymond Williams introduced the notion of ‘structure of feeling’ in “Preface to film” using the simple definition of “the shape and organisation of ideas and sentiments at particular times and in particular contexts” (chapter:2, p.189). In the Romanian cinema case, the structure of feeling is caused by both a historical and a social event. He states that a structure of feeling represents “a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material, but each in an embryonic phase as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and interrelating continuity” (Williams, Raymond Marxism and Literature, 1977, p.131) which is a key component in the contemporary Romanian filmmaking and its motives. The communist regime was not only a major historical and political event, but it also had an important impact on a social plan. The social cultural changes represent the foundation for the motives that, later on, built the entire spectrum of the Romanian structure of feeling in cinema. The Romanian New Wave filmmakers did nothing but emphasise this feeling of affiliation to the communism regime as a main background theme through small motives, usually used as metaphors, taken from those times. The most commonly used visual was the ‘bowl of soup’: this image is used as a remembrance motif of the 1982 “scientific diet programme for the population”(Judt, Tony Romania from bottom to Heap, 2001). In order to pay off national debt, Ceausescu restricted the amount of food families were entitled to, leading to an austerity programme, which led to a starvation situation.’The bowl of soup’ is a concept metaphor usually associated with poverty, that depicts how rationalising food consumption was enforced to the edge of survival.
It is interesting that one of the more recent Romanian films, “The world is mine”(2015) directed by Nicolae Constantin Tanase still depicts communist characteristics, despite its American incline. It seems to be that the communist mentality that Lucian Pintilie was mentioning impregnated itself into the younger generation that is not ready yet to give it all up to the bright and modern American filmmaking stylistic choices. The film follows the main character, Larisa, a teenage rebellious girl while juggling the age-related challenges: friendship, school, boys and parents. “When she falls for the school’s hunk, the Don Juan type and obvious bad boy Florin, Larisa find herself in an open war with Florin’s ex Ana, the high school’s queen bee with an influential father, who is not amused by the newly kindled romance and attacks her viciously. Elated by her new-found assurance, Larisa retaliates and risks to burn down all her bridges in the process.” says the actress Ana-Maria Guran about her character, Larisa in an interview at the Transylvania International Film Festival TIFF in 2015. After running away from home and stealing money from her parents, she finds shelter at a friend’s house, while being looked for by the police. On the brink of loneliness, Larisa finds herself at a party where she makes peace with her friends and makes a promise not to get into trouble again. The plan doesn’t go as smoothly, after telling Florin that she loves him and being aggressively rejected, she finds her judgment clouded by disappointment. Being drunk doesn’t help Larisa when one of Florin’s friends, who she thought was her friend too, sexually abuses her and takes away her last piece of dignity.
In 2013 Calin Peter Netzer directed the film ‘Child’s Pose’ that served as a paving ground for the next generation of filmmakers, introducing a new type of character. This first innovative choice of character serves as inspiration for the director of ‘The world is mine’: building his heroine as a mixture of the young adult Otilia Mihartescu’s fierceness in the face of the law in ‘4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days’ and Marrisa’s rebellious behaviour in ‘The O.C.’, Larisa seems to be the Romanian ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ contemporary Annie.The main character represents ‘new territory’, as the director explains in an interview at the film premiere at the Karlovy Vary film festival, in 2015: “I found it necessary to make a film about the growing up process in a world like Romania, where teenagers swearing, fighting and being sexual is both a reality and a tabu topic for all generations. I didn’t want to judge them and I didn’t want to make a social film about the past, I wanted to explore new territory, the present.”
The choice of having a girl as a central point of the film comes as a repercussion to the way women were treated in the past, an image that is depicted by the mother. Communists claimed that by giving the women a fair chance to be a great housewife, study and work along their men, not being discriminated when it came to work done only by men, women were able to fulfil their dreams. The regime promoted the woman to be both the perfect housewife and the perfect socialist worker; in reality women were struggling to meet all the expectations, without the right of denying any of their attributions, women reached an overall state of exhaustion. Communist female emancipation wasn’t about the female identity, but about their proletarian emancipation: the women of those times were given obligations that looked like rights. In the dining scene, after Larisa gets into a fight at school, the husband and wife relation is depicted as it was during the past: when the husband shouts ‘Get out!’ the woman shows no intentions in defending the daughter, but obeys her man’s orders. She shows no individual identity and seems to carry a fear of her husband, that is highlighted also in a later scene, before Larisa runs away from home. The mother, knowing that the father would get aggressive with her daughter, still does nothing to protect Larisa and openly does whatever possible to please her husband. The mother-daughter relationship represents the idea of a generation clash: the mother portrays the communist submissive woman and Larisa depicts the present, the rebellious woman that fights for her rights, similar to the young women after the Decree of 1966, when they were breaking the law by committing illegal abortions( Kligman, Gail The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceau?escu’s Romania, 2013, p. 105).
The age of the protagonist also represents a new discussion topic in the conversation about Romanian cinema: most of the successful films followed the lives of either young adults or grown-ups that already have strong personalities and that have passed the teenage years while a person’s character is being shaped. The director admitted at the film premiere at the Karlovy Vary film festival that the main purpose of the film was to follow the growing up process Larisa is experiencing: “I didn’t want to stay distant, but I wanted to get to know these girls, I wanted to see them in their intimacy and to understand their decisions and to discover their hopes and dreams. I wanted to see how they transform from girls… to women.” On this note, the director made the intriguing choice of using extreme close-ups during some of the most intimate moments Larisa is experiencing throughout the film. The kissing scene is a mark in the Romanian cinema due to the closeness the audience is brought to: the very detailed close-ups the viewer is experiencing does not only vanish any trace of chastity, but also breaks the barriers between the characters and the audience, allowing the viewer to identify with the protagonist even during some of the most delicate moments in a person’s life. In a country where any sexual matter was considered taboo until not long ago, Larisa breaks the stereotype of the fragile prude woman and gives herself the freedom of reality and showcasing it as it is. In previous movies, like ‘4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days” the intimate scene is shown from a third person point of view: in the dorm scene, when Otilia is changing, the camera is only facing her back, not exposing the character’s nudity but protecting her from the curious eye of the audience. In the later intimate scene between Otilia, followed by Gabita, and the doctor Mr. Bebe, the thriller atmosphere is created by keeping away from the character’s faces, just using powerful painful sounds and the third person’s perspective. The scene is structured to make it seem like the girls are watching other going through the grotesque ordeal that Mr. Bebe is using to test the girls’ friendship. The difference in stylistic choices use the same motif: to not judge the characters, but to just present them to the audience. ‘The world is mine’ is trying to show the real life, by projecting Larisa’s emotions clearly, through extreme close-ups, while ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’ tried to prevent the audience judging the main character and their choices, by not intruding in their intimacy.
From the location that was chosen to be Larisa’s home, to the way her fears and desperation are being depicted by the director, the water represents a central theme for the film. In the initial monologue Larisa is situated on top of a building overlooking her hometown, she opens up about her fears by using the metaphor “I dream that I am drowning, I dream that I am drowning and my mouth is full of blood”, which is a summary of all the challenges she goes through during the film. This goes hand in hand with the monologue at the end of the film, which is a repetition of the beginning of the film, with the add-on “But I will be fine no matter what happens”. During this line, the audience is shown the same image of the town Larisa saw during her initial monologue, but this time the town is covered in water. The final scene reveals the true meaning of the water motive: it does not represent Larisa’s fears, as the audience is led to understand, but represents her hope and her belief that no matter what happens, she and her world ‘will be fine’.The strong visuals that are suggested by these metaphors help build not only Larisa’s character, but also give an idea about how difficult her situation is. Throughout the film the use of the water motive is noticeable along with the situations when it is being used: whenever Larisa shows signs of desperation, the water is being used to contour her internal feelings and to portray her thoughts without intruding into the character’s intimacy. Before the argument scene in the girls toilet with her lover’s ex-girlfriend, Larisa is shown washing her face. The camera is not focused on Larisa, but on the movement of the water. This technique of ignoring the character, along with the choice of silence, builds up an awkward tension without revealing the action of the next scene.
After the girls fight, Larisa has an argument with her mother’s husband, who ends up physically abusing her. After this powerful scene Larisa’s attention is focused again on a water motive, when she spills a water of bottle: the image of the water is used once more to depict the girl’s confusion and disorientation. When Larisa is called into the principal’s office her attention is focused on the aquarium and movement of the fish, again, the camera is not focused of the character, but on what the character sees. This, again, is used to portray Larisa’s confusion and to not give away her intentions. As the end of the film is approaching the water motive acquires more powerful meaning, being heavily used when the grandmother, the actual maternal figure in Larisa’s life, dies. In order to contour the mix of feelings and the deep sadness that this brings into the girl’s life, the water is used to show the journey her feelings go through. As she realises what happens and the water becomes more and more prominent in the scene, the door opening illuminates the overwhelming acceptance of the tragic event.
Along with the new, on the Romanian screen, filming techniques that the director chooses, as the slow motion sequence when Larisa runs from the principal’s office after she abuses her rival, Ana, to the repetitive sound disruptions that have preceded most of the silent scenes, the movie “The world is mine” represents the courage of the new and coming generations.
Lucian Pintilie said, “Romania is yet not ready to give up the communist idea” (Pop, Doru Romanian New Wave Cinema:An Introduction, 2014). Certain elements are still being used in the contemporary films, being part of the structure of feelings that the communist regime impregnated into the Romanian culture. The famous ‘bowl of soup’ , as remains present in this film as well: it is screened twice throughout the movie, every time having a different meaning, but bearing the same characteristic as it always did. It is first pictured when Larisa has to feed her paralysed grandmother with nothing else but a foul looking soup given by the mother. This does not only imply the social status of the family, but also gives an impression about the importance of the grandmother character to everybody else but Larisa: an inevitable burden that no one wants to deal with but the rebellious grand-daughter that finds her strengths similar to the one that seems to make her grandmother hang onto her life: “This one is as strong as I am, she is not going to die when you want” says Larisa when her mother wants to give her grandmother’s clothes away. The second time this symbol is used is when the family is all eating together, after Larisa’s fight at school. The bowl of soup is yet again blending in with the communist looking location and the ‘working people status’ of the characters, but, in this scene seems to represent the silence before the storm. After the family is discussing Larisa’s school event, in an atmosphere not unlike that of The Last Supper, the abusive event between Larisa and her mother’s husband takes place. In both of these scenes, the ‘bowl of soup’ is being used with the same meaning as it always did: to portray simplicity and to fill in the matrix of characteristics that contour the disorganised and disturbed atmosphere of the film.
‘The world is mine’ was meant to be an experiment from its very beginning on all aspects, from the new and innovative techniques and American style characters that the young director chose to sketch in his first feature film, to the brutal realism of the script. Still keeping elements that impregnated themselves in the Romanian culture, Nicoale Constantin Tanase shows the audience a world of a metaphor: Larisa represents the struggling teenager of the 21st century, but at the same time the struggling woman in 1966, fighting with either the temptations, or the communist law.