Thanks to the kind support of the Romanian Institute for Culture, we are able to present this year's retrospective on the work of the portrait guest on the big screen. Romanian director Radu Jude has already given insights in his work in an extended Q&A during the festival week. Now in August, his films will be shown. The event location will be the cinema of DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum in Frankfurt am Main.
Tickets for the film programme can be bought online on the website of DFF. (Alternatively, you can access the ticket link below in the programme)
by Dominik Streib
Since 2005, the Romanian New Wave has repeatedly caused a stir in the international film world. It all began with three films: MOARTEA DOMNULUI LĂZĂRESCU / THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU (2005) by Cristi Puiu, A FOST SAU N-A FOST? / 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (2006) by Corneliu Porumboiu and 4 LUNI, 3 SĂPTĂMÂNI ŞI 2 ZILE / 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (2007) by Cristian Mungiu. Ever since that initial trio hit, the wave has ebbed in cycles, only to work its way to the surface once again. As an assistant to Cristi Puiu during filming for THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU, Radu Jude has been a part of the movement from day one. Whereas at the beginning of his career Jude was still completely beholden to its impetus in his examination of contemporary Romania, his realistic approach and his frequent use of black humour, in his later works he has gone on to devote himself increasingly to Romanian history and its echoes in the present, while constantly re-defining himself through his aesthetic choices.
Radu Jude's first short film LAMPA CU CĂCIULĂ / THE TUBE WITH A HAT (2005) is a parable of consumerist society, whose nature he continues to probe in his debut feature CEA MAI FERICITÃ FATÃ DIN LUME / THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (2009), a cinematic caricature of capitalism with a laconic attitude that extends the system ad absurdum. The protagonist, 18-year-old Delia, travels to Bucharest with her parents to take possession of an automobile she won in a prize drawing. Alas, the capitalist world can't function without greed and compulsory production: the car may only change hands after shooting for a commercial has been completed. In countless takes, Delia is forced to recite the same slogan over and over while taking a sip of lemonade. The advertising aesthetic has to be perfect at all times – there is no room for compromise. Exhaustion gradually leaves its mark on Delia's body: she becomes a modern-age Sisyphus in present-day Romania. And as if that weren't bad enough already, her parents insist that she sell the car, threatening to disown her if she should refuse. In its rigour, the capitalistic structure of consumerist society even manages to force its way into the most intimate spheres. Finally, Delia acquiesces. Consumerism, or "(t)he destruction of the culture of the individual through consumerist society", which iridescent director Pier Paolo Pasolini described as a new form of fascism in the 1970s, has taken the place of the dictatorships under General Ion Antonescu (1940–1944) and Nicolae Ceaușescu (1965–1989) – to which Radu Jude will devote himself in later works.
Jude's second feature-length film, TOATĂ LUMEA DIN FAMILIA NOASTRĂ / EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY (2012), is also an expansion on the themes of an earlier short film, ALEXANDRA (2008); both treat power struggles within the family unit. The departure point for EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY is an everyday situation: Marius would like to undertake an excursion to the seaside with his daughter, but his former wife is intent on spoiling his plans. Her new partner doesn't allow Marius and Sofia to leave until the mother returns and gives her consent. Where in ALEXANDRA the characters are still able to come up with a halfway peaceful solution, in EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY the conflict escalates uncontrollably, ending in police intervention, a kidnapping and a blood-soaked Marius fleeing through the streets of Bucharest. Time and again, the adults and parents portrayed here indulge their resentment and wounded pride at the expense of their children.
From the mid-2010s onward, Radu Jude emancipated himself more vigorously from the main thrust of the Romanian New Wave, turning his attention to the dark and forgotten chapters of Romanian history, consistently approaching them using new aesthetic means, with the aim of exposing a wide variety of power dynamics. Initially, his focus lies above all on the continuity of Romanian anti-Semitism: in AFERIM! (2015), he traces anti-ziganism and anti-Semitism back to the 19th century in striking black-and-white images, constructing a stylised western that guides the viewer through a hostile world saturated with prejudice, hate and stereotypical attributions. AFERIM! earned Jude a Silver Bear at the 2015 Berlinale. His approach is entirely different in INIMI CICATRIZATE / SCARRED HEARTS (2016), which – based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Max Blecher – is a variation on Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain" set in Romania of the 1930s. Staged in exquisitely beautiful tableaus, each akin to a painting, the film depicts how the dangerous anti-Semitic undercurrents of the interbellum period gradually seep into the seemingly isolated seclusion of a sanatorium on the Black Sea.
Both of Jude's next two films, ȚARA MOARTĂ / THE DEAD NATION (2017) and ÎMI ESTE INDIFERENT DACĂ ÎN ISTORIE VOM INTRA CA BARBARI / I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS (2018), are situated in this immediate context as well, as they continue the examination of Romanian anti-Semitism against the backdrop of Romania's entanglements in the Holocaust, rendered historically evident, as well as their reverberations in contemporary Romanian society. In addition, THE DEAD NATION is Radu Jude's first outing in the genre of the essayistic documentary film: exclusively employing original historical materials, he paints a devastating picture of Romania in the period from 1937 to 1946, during which the anti-Semitic/fascist legionnaire movement made steady gains in popularity, culminating in Ion Antonescu's seizure of power in September 1940 and the first mass murders of Jews on Romanian soil in 1941. In the film, Radu Jude's own voice speaks from off-camera, reading excerpts from the diary of the Jewish doctor Emil Dorian. Dorian's texts allow one to feel the growing threat of rampant anti-Semitism; these passages are repeatedly intercut with nationalistic songs and radio recordings of fascist leaders. On screen, the viewer is exposed to black-and-white photographs from the period (shot by the Splendid photography studio), no more, no less – in what amounts to an impressive display of the simple rural population and an equally striking documentation of the widespread militarisation of the era. While the diary excerpts allow one to perceive the sense of increasing desperation, the fascisation of bodies becomes clear on the visual level. This is most strikingly captured in a montage sequence wherein posing girls and boys stand at attention in front of the camera, right hands outstretched in the saluto romano, the Roman salute, accompanied by fascist marching music. The ideology of fascism encroaches onto the still-innocent bodies of children as well. The film's subtitle, "Fragments of Parallel Lives", truly could not be more apt.
Radu Jude sticks firmly to this path with I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS. Whereas in THE DEAD NATION he worked exclusively with historical material for both images and voice-over, the search for historical source material is now employed as a plot element, as we accompany director Mariana Marin (in a memorable performance by Ioana Iacob) in her preparations for a historical re-enactment that aims to treat the extermination of Romanian Jews in Odessa in 1941. In a hybrid form – the fictional narrative is self-awarely presented as such, while documentary elements repeatedly push their way into the foreground – Radu Jude follows the process of the staging's development, the problems with the state board of censors, which "conceives" of this massacre as just one of many around the world, and finally the premiere performance at a public square in Bucharest, which devolves into an absolute farce. With a virtuoso's light touch, the filmmaker manages to create an entertaining and at the same time utterly unsettling film, one in which the power of Romanian history is constantly present in the world of today: in the scope of the re-enactment, one of the portrayed Jews attempts to escape deportation, only to be driven back by the crowd of spectators. A horrifying scene, demonstrating that the dark sides of history are not forgotten, indeed their sinister tracks extend without interruption into the present – not least due to repression and a failure to adequately process the past.
At this year's Berlinale, Radu Jude celebrated the world premiere of his most recent film, TIPOGRAFIC MAJUSCUL / UPPERCASE PRINT (2020). Once again, we are treated to an examination of Romanian history, this time, however, focussing on the dictatorship under Nicolae Ceaușescu. The film grapples with the question of the power of state repression on two levels. On the one hand, the film tells the story of the adolescent Mugur Călinescu, who became a target of the Securitate in the 1980s for spreading regime-critical slogans. In a staging that clearly alludes to the theatre setting and is an adaptation of the documentary theatre piece of the same name by Gianina Cărbunariu, based on the Securitate's own secret files, the total occupation of the private sphere becomes evident, in interrogations of schoolmates and parents, the bugging of apartments and, finally, court cases against Mugur. These passages are repeatedly juxtaposed with archival television footage from the period in question: processions honouring Ceaușescu, but also everyday reports on athletic activities, rules concerning carpet beating or cooking shows. Romanian society during the Ceaușescu era is thus completely characterised by two types of power structures: on one hand, the subversion of the individual by the secret police, and, on the other hand, the manipulation of society through the mass media of television, with its attempts to evoke an idyllic world that instead reveals itself to be a chimera, single-mindedly headed towards the state disintegration of the late 1980s. Both spheres interact closely with one another: both are stagings of power that objectively inscribe themselves in reality.
Thus, Radu Jude's work appears polymorphous in style and full of variation when it comes to choices of thematic material and agenda. With their aesthetically realistic approach, his early films investigate problems in contemporary Romania, while AFERIM! and SCARRED HEARTS represent two stylised treatments of Romanian history. His three most recent works go their own ways: these are hybrid films that operate between the categories of fiction and documentary cinema and integrate the most diverse materials – diaries, photographs, theatre and archival materials. Nevertheless, in spite of the shifting approach from film to film, one can recognise the filmmaker's distinct signature: all of the films take on power dispositives and power relations that shape both society as a whole and the individual, inscribing themselves in the bodies of the latter category, from contemporary social issues in today's Romania to those great historical upheavals whose shadows extend into the present. However, power relations are never considered in isolation here, but instead are constantly (and mutually) mirrored between intimate circles (often the family unit) and the greater societal context. Perhaps it is precisely this abundance of thematic and aesthetic variation that makes Radu Jude's films so devastating, fascinating and up-to-the-minute: that is, their tendency to refuse to subjugate themselves to the power of an aesthetic concept precisely in order to be able to expose various power structures and intervene in an artistic and subversive manner.