“Anything in Romania can be a story. Without social criticism. Without anti-govermental messages. Without hatred. Without superiority. With honesty. With understanding. With love.” Cristian Nemescu
I am a Romanian filmmaker. That phrase is factually true, I am born in Romania and I am a filmmaker, yet I have a German heritage as well and I didn’t study Romanian film nor am I influenced by it. The so-dubbed “Romanian New Wave” has zero to do with me, it belongs to an older generation of cineastes who have other ideas to express than I do. So I made films in England, worked with other Europeans, all with diverging and fascinating tastes, so my influences are conglomerated from my British experience. But now I returned to Romania to rekindle with my home country and learn more about its film industry. Then I remembered why I left in the first place.
When I was younger, the plan was to enter what is considered the best Romanian film school and then have a career here, but I kept bumping into a type of cinematic taste and approach that I didn’t resonate with. While preparing with university professors for the admission, I realised that this school was championing metaphorical and occult cinema above all else, leaving little room for personal discovery. The cinema I was introduced to is, of course, masterful and emblematic, but the academic context transformed it into an intellectual exercise rather than a passion and I remember feeling ashamed if I disliked a director or film that was considered an indisputable treasure. What’s worse, none of the Romanian films on the compulsory list left their mark on me, other than I realised they weren’t showing the Romania I knew and felt.
In the meantime I was accepted into an English film school and I took the offer without regret, because I was against the artistic snobbery I was exposed to in Romania. The English teaching approach was on the other extreme and students were mostly left to their devices and given guidelines rather than rules. The system was much more to my taste: very open, allowing for experimentation and discovery, no judgement over what films you wanted to dissect. Here I was able to realise on my own what I consider to be a quality film, even if it did overlap with that of the Romanian teachers.
After my British film experience, I returned to Romania and thought about reintegrating, seeing if things have changed or if my generation started to do interesting things I could join in on. Perusing through our country’s recent masters, I remembered that there had been a director who gave me hope of a better direction for Romanian cinema. He had a fresh and vibrant vision expressed through universal stories, with an inner poetry that can’t be plainly interpreted, but should be felt. His name was Cristian Nemescu and he died at 26, during the editing of his first feature film.
I feel indebted to him. His untimely death I find is still a huge loss to our film industry, him being the only one in my eyes that tried something different and representative of my generation. Similarly to his debut feature being called “California Dreamin’ (Endless)”, it feels like our film history is also still unfinished. I feel a need continue his work and mission to unearth Romanian beauty through story. He led the way towards a simple yet deep cinema, inspired by his own life, combining sweetness with toughness. Mostly I like that he seemed to be a person of great humour, ridiculing metaphors that already became a cliché when he was attending film school. I like that he had the talent to create unique characters and not just stereotypes, that his films could be felt, not just made to decode and analyse. Having the right to expressive freedom, many directors of the “Romanian New Wave” have approached communist themes and frustrations of a generation that is very far from my own. Nemescu went towards the individual, not the collective, and he attacked his interior demons head-on, which then anyone could identify with.
So now I’m trying to find this indie film spirit that should be dwelling inside young Romanian filmmakers waiting to be recognized. There is a strong need for youth and freshness, a removal of the old system dogmas and terrain in which we are able to make our own mistakes, to be curious and experimental and to discover the great masters on our own.
Today, anyone can shoot and edit, but not everyone can make a film. There is still a barrier between the “endangered” professionals and mentor-less amateurs with great potential. It is such a shame that there is no formula to combine the expertise of the wise with the courage of the young, which could lead to a whole new filmmaking paradigm. In times of hyper-massive media content, we need to remind and guide audiences and filmmakers alike about the basic purpose of film as a gateway towards self-knowledge, towards our own subconscious and the invisible roots that bind humanity. Viewed in this context filmmaking is the best form of therapy. Nemescu did not run away from his own frustrations, which can be noticed as a leitmotiv throughout his (too short) work, and thus he managed to exorcise his worries. The only way of ridding a fear is by facing it, by looking the dragon in the eye and dancing with it. “When the strongest adversary you have is yourself, nothing else from the exterior world scares you anymore.” (Lupşa). Self-irony, humour, self-deprecation, openness and the courage of sharing with others are steps towards discovering your Self.
Our lives are the most interesting and exciting stories, but most people try to escape it in other people’s narratives, dreaming of different scenarios of their lives, without realising that the stories we resonate most with, attract us because they come from a sincere place. Real life is more tangled and complex than any made-up narrative, which is inspired only by life’s surface. So let us share our lives and stories, and to learn how to do it well.
This post was inspired by Cristian Lupşa’s in-depth article about the late director’s life, published in Esquire Romania in Sept 2007, “Nemescu – Life as a Film”.
Here is the full version of his medium short “Marilena de la P7”, subtitled in English.
On behalf of Nemescu and Andrei Toncu (his sound designer who died alongside him), NexT International Film Festival was founded, to encourage young filmmakers and continue their legacy.