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Romanian Film Fest Celebrates the Best of the New Wave

For one weekend only, a second chance to see the three remarkable Romanian films featured in the last New York Film Festival. Radu Muntean’s domestic melodrama, notable for its daring sequence shots and disciplined performances, Tuesday, After Christmas has been acquired by Kino and will open here in the spring, but Andrei Ujica’s The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu and Cristi Puiu’s Aurora do not have distribution and are unlikely to find it.

The former, which inaugurates the Romanian Film Festival Friday evening and shows again Sunday morning, is a true film-object, a three-hour, unexplicated assemblage of official newsreels that earns its title by presenting the Romanian dictator’s image as he wanted it seen, not only at home but on the world stage. Aurora, screening Sunday afternoon, is a murder-mystery in which the killer’s identity is known but his motives are not; like Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, the movie is something of a test. The premise is absurdist (and ultimately humorous), but, despite the probing of a documentary-style camera, little is immediately apparent. The near-total absence of establishing shots and abundance of seeming non sequiturs renders every cut a jolt. The compositions are typically underlit or obstructed; the movie’s characteristic setup has the action glimpsed through a half-open door. As confounding in its way as L’avventura must have seemed in 1960, Aurora piques curiosity and provokes hypervigilance. That the protagonist’s expression rarely changes, that he never quite understands what anyone says to him, and that he appears in nearly every shot, becomes even stranger if you know that this furtive yet compulsive character is played by the movie’s director. (Less a psychological case study than a philosophical treatise, Aurora embodies the “shame of self” that Sartre describes in Being and Nothingness as the disconcerting recognition that one is “the object which the Other is looking at and judging.”)

The festival includes half a dozen new features, all having their local premieres, several documentaries, and a number of shorts. The closing-night film, Carnival Scenes, is a once-banned 1981 movie by the most gifted of Communist-era directors, Lucian Pintilie, that, like his best-known movie, The Oak, makes an apt corollary to The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu—a manic black comedy showing the hallucinated state of ordinary life in Romania during the final decade of the tyrant’s Ubu Roi reign.

 
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