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Dark new wave

By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  October 1, 2007

It might say something about the prickly Romanian sensibility that few films in the series are of orthodox feature-film length — if they’re not ambitiously long, they’re featurettes and long shorts, all the less convenient to box into categories. Nemescu’s 40-minute “MARINELA FROM P7” (2006) begins as a Bucharest Los olvidados before devolving into a street kid’s coming-of-age experience with a young hooker; the filmmaker, it seems, had an unquenched thirst for Elvis impersonators and electrically charged women. Puiu’s “CIGARETTES AND COFFEE” (2004) is a more rigorous and astute pas de deux between a near-retiree being shut out of the industrial system and a young, rich bureaucrat trying, diffidently, to lend a hand. Mitulescu’s “TRAFFIC” (2004) limns the gap between a yuppie’s career demands and the life flowing around him as he gets stuck in traffic and tries to manage the world on his car cell. Still, Radu Jude’s “THE TUBE WITH A HAT” (2006), involving a father, a son, a broken TV and a stretch of uncooperative countryside, stands out thanks to its almost Kiarostamian purity.

Mitulescu’s feature debut, THE WAY I SPENT THE END OF WORLD (2006), is of ordinary length and scale, and it might be the sweetest surprise, thanks both to watchful lead Dorotheea Petre (a prize at Cannes) and Mitulescu’s conception of her character: a tempestuous, rebellious high-schooler dissatisfied with her smitten boyfriend and fed up with the Ceausescu reign. She contemplates escape — but to where? Something of a generational touchstone in Romania, Mitulescu’s movie climaxes with the revolution-is-being-televised events of December 1989, a thoroughly unsentimental happy ending that comes with its own kind of disappointing blowback, one felt across the country.

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