The Way I Spent the End of the World
Not to take anything away from the achievements of the Romanian New Wave, but the fact that these sublime, modest, inconclusive, off-the-cuff, on-the-shoulder movies are currently considered the global-fest cat’s meow is, I think, indicative of how far mainstream cinema has strayed from anything substantive, engaging, convincing or resonant. Only in contrast to the dominance of all-digital superheroes, all-digital war epics, all-digital pubertal-sorcery franchises, abbreviated AVID-edited syntax, endless TV show reincarnations, ad infinitum, in other words, the continued evolution of movies from a three-dimensional art form to an infantilized content stream fit for house pets, only in contrast to this could the Romanian films, as adroit and wizened as they may be, cause a cultural buzzquake in the world’s film festival coverage. Covering the moment for The Boston Phoenix, I’ve seen Cristi Puiu’s Stuff and Dough, Cigarettes and Coffee and of course The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest (just out on DVD), Christian Mungiu’s Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (coming theatrically in January), Christian Nemescu’s California Dreamin’ and Marinela from P7, Catalin Mitulescu’s Traffic and The Way I Spent the End of the World (due to us in some form in 2008), and Radu Jude’s The Tube with a Hat, and I’ve come to think that without the context of a hypercommercialized mainstream to backlight it, the "wave" would’ve made a mild splash at best; indeed, if it had emerged in the ‘60s, beside the French, the Czechs, the Polish, the Hungarians and the Soviets, we might not’ve heard about it at all.
This doesn’t detract from the films, necessarily – several of them are among the recent best, and all are rigorous and adept and sober, as well as being appallingly eloquent about their culture’s time and place. The Romanians have studied their Rossellini, De Sica, early Godard, Cassavetes, American New Wave hits, late Hou, late Loach, mid-90s French film, and Lucien Pintille. And make no mistake, I’m thankful they exist, and that they exist now. But where’s the masterpiece? Who’ll proclaim any of the filmmakers, with their handheld imagery, slice-of-dire-life scenarios and mild sense of invention, to be the next Rivette, the next Wajda, the next Jancso, the next Kiarostami? Are we just agog at any new film that seems to visually portray contemporary life with a righteous and unsentimental sense of accuracy?
I haven’t come to honor the Romanians – everyone, including me, has done that elsewhere – nor to bury them, but to consider perhaps if in fact the grade curve for an international "new wave" isn’t a little busted, if in fact we love the Romanians not so much for what they are, but for what they aren’t – they aren’t 300 or Wild Hogs or Next or Across the Universe (or even Curse of the Golden Flower or Babel or The History Boys or My Best Friend, etc.). New waves have always, I think, thrived on proving antithetical to the commercial pap, but the dynamic may be experiencing its clearest test case, its defining moment, when the films need do little more to catch the breath of cinephiles than stand in the middle of a lower-class kitchen and record the light honestly and the people without bullshit.