After decades of communist censorship and state-funded propaganda films, the post-Revolution Romanian cinematography has proven to be one of the most introspective researchers of how Romanian society was forever changed by this extremist regime.
Starting with the mid-2000’s, a young generation of Romanian directors took the world by surprise with their authentic, minimalist and overly realist cinema approach. They set the grounds of the Romanian New Wave with their internationally acclaimed movies that showed the good, the bad and the ugly of post-communist Romania’s transition, all topped with black humor and a sense of self-irony Romanians master better than anyone.
If you you’re curious to discover this particular universe, our Top 13 Romanian Movies is a good start for your to-watch list of stunning Romanian films.
A bold black and white historical film, Aferim – directed by Radu Jude – confronts the public with the delicate topic of gypsy slavery in 19th century Southern Romania. In a backward world of unbreakable social barriers, superstitions and prejudices, a young gypsy man, Carfin, runs for his life as his boyar owner seeks to capture him after catching him having an affair with his wife.
Aferim was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlinale International Film Festival.
Based on dramatic real events that shocked the Romanian society just a few years before the movie was shot, Beyond the Hills is one more of Cristian Mungiu’s fascinating films.
The story of two best friends, set in the archaic and almost surreal atmosphere of an isolated Orthodox monastery where one of them lives as a noun, follows the clash between the religious indoctrination and religious indifference. The high-intense emotional rollercoaster leads to a tragic end, almost unbelievable in the 21st century.
Tragically marked by the death of its director, Cristian Nemescu, in the post-production phase, California Dreamin’ offers a fabulous incursion in yet again post-communist Romania. The action is set in 1999, during the Kosovo war, in a small village from southern Romania where the train station chief is a mini-God that steals as much as he can.
The forced stationing of a train with American soldiers the chief doesn’t allow to pass by without a written authorization becomes the life-changing event for the main characters of the film: the chief and his rebel daughter who wants to leave as soon and as far away as possible.
A stunning movie, alternating hilarious moments from the village life with childhood traumas that explain much of the chief’s grudging attitude towards the Americans, California Dreamin’ is a must-see.
Maybe the most famous Romanian movie from our list, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was one of the pioneer films of the New Wave.
Two best friends, university students, are faced with a life-changing decision as they must face the shady and illegal practices of securing an abortion in last years of communist Romania. Far from pro-life moralizing debates, the film realistically presents the crippling lack of personal freedom and the overwhelming power of friendship even when confronted with abominable ordeals.
The movie was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nine years after Four Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu delivers another heartbreaking movie: Graduation.
Wishing to offer his only daughter a better life and the opportunity to do her university studies abroad, a doctor is faced with a painful choice. One that could jeopardize the relationship with his daughter, but that represents so well the difficult moral choice between integrity and corruption as an omnipresent daily life practice in Romania.
Back to the gruesome time of the communist regime in Catalin Mitulescu’s film. Not an easy movie to watch especially if you’re not familiarized with the absurd realities of communism, the film tells the story of Eva and Lalalilu, sister and brother, and how their lives change after an accidental event – breaking the bust of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu – leads to dramatic consequences.
Lead actress Dorotheea Petre received the Un Certain Regard Award for the movie at Cannes Film Festival.
Probably no other movie portrays better the opposing realities that co-existed in the chaotic transition of the Romanian society after the fall of the communism.
Preceding the New Wave, Philanthropy – written and directed by Nae Caranfil – features star actors Mircea Diaconu and Gheorghe Dinica in an incredible and thrilling story about appearances in a world of princes and beggars.
Focused on the double life an ordinary teacher embarks on to make enough money to keep his young mistress happy, Philanthropy is a bittersweet comedy that vividly presents the reversed values of post-communist Romania.
The same amazing Nae Caranfil enchanted the public with another masterpiece in 2007 when The Rest is Silence was released. Hilarious, sad at times and captivating until the end, the film is the story of how another film was made almost one century ago.
The personal dramas and professional struggles of a young director – sponsored by a decadently rich businessman – in his quest to make a movie about the Independence War of Romania easily take us back to Romania of the early 20th century.
Drama, suspense and moral dilemmas, Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective has it all when it comes to fine-tuned psychological characters.
While on the job, a young policeman is faced with a moral dilemma that sets him in opposition to his superior and the rigid law system of post-communist Romania dominated by a complete lack of trust and flexibility.
Police, Adjective won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes Film Festival 2009.
Was there or wasn’t there a revolution in December 1989 in the small city of Vaslui from Eastern Romania? This is the central question around which revolves the entire action of this acclaimed film by the same Corneliu Porumboiu.
Awarded with the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes Film Festival, 12:08 East of Bucharest presents the events of December ’89 as they were witnessed by the main characters – a former textile engineer turned into a tv-show host, a high school teacher with alcohol problems and a pensioner who dresses as Santa Claus every Christmas. Each one has a different version and interpretation, transforming the commemorative tv-show into a comical and absurd dialogue.
A young man serving his last days in prison is the main character of Florin Serban’s film If I want to Whistle, I Whistle.
The closer he gets to freedom, the more complicated things become for the main protagonist who has to deal with his inmates’ aggressivity, the return of his mother after many years and the presence of a volunteer he falls in love with.
The movie was awarded the Silver Berlin Bear.
Cristi Puiu’s film may simply be too shocking and sad to watch, but it’s too good to miss. Based on a real-life case, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, like the title indicates, presents the last night of the life of an old man, sent from one hospital to the other until he finally couldn’t be saved.
It’s, in fact, a dramatic representation of the inefficient Romania health care system that’s agonizing at the same time with Mr, Lazarescu.
A romantic film that has little in common with the other Romanian movies from our top, Hello! How are you? is the perfect choice for a Sunday afternoon.
A middle-aged couple, each partner with their own frustrations and problems, goes through a marriage crisis the two make even worse when they start their own secret online affairs. The surprise is more than they can handle when they discover who was on the other side of the computer. All while their teenager son is seeking his own identity, from wannabe adult movies actor to brilliant physics student.
Creative, surprising and often paradoxical, the Romanian movies from the past decade opened the way for talented directors, actors and producers. Their list is longer and we invite you to add your favorites in the comments section below.