Monday, December 24, 2012

A Communist Past: A Very Married Christmas

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

I have written on Radu Muntean's Tuesday, After Christmas/ Marţi, după Crăciun (2010) before but I thought it would be interesting to mention it again as it is Christmas Eve and officially, Romanian Christmas on this very day. The film is the story of an affair and its repercussions and, in fact, does not have much to do with Christmas itself. It is more about the symbolism that is at play - Christmas is at the end of the year so it stands for the finishing off of things or bringing them to an end. The protagonist, Paul (Mimi Branescu) brings his marriage to an end at Christmas and his story is executed in flawless realist style. Tuesday, After Christmas is easily one of the best achievements of Romanian cinema.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Visual Diary: A Czechoslovakian Feudal Drama

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

František Vláčil's 'Marketa Lazarová' (1967) 

Throughout the 1960's in Europe there seemed to be a boom in medieval dramas. Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960) is at the forefront of this group of films, because of its ability to squeeze into various genres from Christianity, paganism and the occult to rape-revenge. Another film that comes to mind is Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) - a realist portrait of 15th century Russia.  But the images below derive from the Czech film Marketa Lazarová. Most cinephiles recognize the works of Tarkovsky and Bergman, but František Vláčil is not so well known, which is unfortunate because his films are extraordinary - there's just something eerie about Bohemian history that keeps audiences captivated.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Communist Past: The Origins of My Interest in Eastern European Arts and Culture

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Migration is a poem I wrote about six years ago. It details the transition and hardship of moving from a country of birth to an unknown new place. Once someone migrates they are stuck in limbo between the country where they have moved away from and the country where they have chosen to live. This is an issue that I have raised in my studies on Eastern European cinema - from a diasporic perspective. Romanian born director, Radu Mihaileanu, has a Jewish background and lives in France - so what does that make him?

This little piece of prose is the story of my family's migration from Romania to Australia back in 1991 when I was three years old.

Violently exposed to this unknown world-
Humidity’s odor shocks me.
What of this foreign language that... drowns... my ears

Three years old, on my mother’s hip, I depart from
All I know. Str. Anton Pann, Sighisoara.
"Where is Grandma?"
This is our home now
At this I feel a tear.
By thirteen, I emerge being accepted for the way I match my words to those that feel it counts-
"What’s this?" they say, "You’re not from here"-
"Of course" I lie, full of fear, knowing that
they may, in the canteen and the courtyard and the classroom
Slide away into the corner where I do not sit.

And what will happen at thirty-three?
What of this distant accent can I still speak?
"It’s nearly gone!" my mother weeps.
You let go of your native speech
For you were weak
And let them change
Your mind and your writing hand
Where all your selves once lay
But so quickly diminished when those kids
Said you pray-
"Why are you different?" they asked.
You never answered, instead you let them
make you someone else.
How sad it makes your world
And mine.

My mother, Mona, and I when we arrived in Germany, 
on the way to Australia.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Communist Past: The Temperamental but Effective Results of a Rollei Film via an Olympus Trip

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Although my favorite camera is undoubtedly my Porst Reflex, I decided against taking it to Europe this year and breaking my back with it (it gets heavy after a while, especially when you're backpacking!). I replaced it with my little Olympus Trip that I picked up for a ridiculous $3 at my local op shop. Little did I know that it had a light leak, but between this flaw and the intolerance of the Rollei film, my Olympus achieved some interesting results. Below are some photographs I took in Sighişoara, Berlin and Prague. P.S. The last three are taken on B&W Kodak film.

Props to my close friend Aaron Bensaude who helped me scan my film with his high tech photo scanner. Aaron is currently living in London and in the process of publishing a book on his grandfather's beautiful photographs, which focus on rural life in Portugal. He would not be happy with me as I have not yet tweaked these in Photoshop, but I'm all for imperfection in photography. So here they are in their imperfect state, enjoy.

Biserica din Deal/Church on the Hill in Sighişoara, Romania
(June 2012)

Casa Cu Cerb/Deer House in Sighişoara, Romania
(June 2012)

Turnul Cu Ceas/Clock Tower in Sighişoara, Romania 
(June 2012)

Abandoned Trabant in Kreuzberg, Berlin 
(July 2012)

Monument on Karlův Most/Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
(May 2012) 

Musicians on Karlův Most/Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
(May 2012) 

A back street in Prague, Czech Republic
(May 2012)

Karlův Most/Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
(May 2012) 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Visual Diary: From Yugoslavia with Love

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Dušan Makavejev's 'Sweet Movie' (1974)

You ain't seen nothing, until you've watched a Black New Wave film.... But before you decide to quickly judge the images below in a negative manner, it is important to remain open minded. Makavejev uses phallic images throughout his films to stand for the essence of dictatorship throughout Eastern Europe's communist history. Sex is another recurring motif playfully and sometimes dangerously portrayed by the auteur to represent death - the final image in this series is a reference to the Kachyn Forest massacre. Film scholar, Dina Iordanova speaks more fluently about the metaphors in a documentary featured on the Criterion Collection edition of the film.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Film Review: Aurora (2010) Cristi Puiu

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

On a recent visit to the La Trobe University library I surprisingly came across Cristi Puiu's latest film made, Aurora (2010). Readers, I have been on a rampage of destruction, trying to locate this DVD ever since it became a hit across festivals through Europe. Last year, I completed my Honours thesis in Romanian cinema with each chapter focusing on the following Romanian auteurs: Lucian Pintilie, Mircea Daneliuc, Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu. Aurora was one film that I did not manage to incorporate in my examination and wish I had. It is a three hour reinterpretation and perhaps deconstruction of the drama genre. The plot follows the protagonist Viorel (Cristi Puiu) through his daily meanderings; re-claiming an overdue loan from a work colleague, alienating the staff at a clothing boutique, telling his mother's new lover to stay out of his face and murdering people with a rifle. The audience will come to understand that Viorel is going through a divorce, a separation that he does not agree with, hence the violent acts. He spies on his wife and children as they leave in the mornings and practices shooting in his apartment. And his motives are..?  Something for the audience to decide as the past becomes unraveled transcending into a climatic ending of about ten minutes, tops! Aurora is set in slow-cinematic form, which may be difficult for some viewers to maintain attention, but it is worthwhile as you will never see anything like a Cristi Puiu film.

Quite some time ago, my grandmother informed me, after watching her usual programs on Romanian TV via satellite, that Puiu searched and searched but did not find an actor who could fit the role, which is why he decided to play it himself. I confirmed this little piece of trivia with the lovely actress, Clara Vodă, on my trip to Romania this year, who stated that she convinced Puiu to portray Viorel. Clara plays a significant role in Aurora as a sister or friend of the protagonist (it is unclear) and also worked with Puiu in, what I believe to be, his greatest achievement thus far, The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Women in Film: Věra Chytilová

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Half Feminist Filmmaker, Half Devoted Mother

I just sat down and watched Věra Chytilová's magnum opus Daisies/Sedmikrásky (1966) followed by a documentary on the director featured on the 'Second Run' edition of the DVD. As reputed, the film was impressive. A definite contributor to modern surrealist cinema and its existence within the Czech New Wave. In nature, Daisies is similar to its successor, Fruits of Paradise/Ovoce stromů rajských jíme(1970). Both carry a sense of foreboding while the characters are eerie and strange in their behavior. Chytilová delightfully shocks and pleases us, she is a rebel with a cause and that cause is to fight against restriction, the restriction of her time. She is disinterested in safety or in the momentary well-being of her audience. Chytilová is a concept artist, experimenting with the macabre and producing simple stories with a twist--she mentions in the documentary that it doesn't matter what story you tell, it is the way you tell it. It was so unfortunate to see that her children, now in their thirties and forties, do not share the same passions as their remarkable mother. Her son, depicted walking away from the camera throughout the documentary, wishing not to be filmed. Yet, Chytilová persists in asking him to collaborate with her on future projects, only to receive blasé responses (whereas I'm sitting there thinking "pick me, pick me!").

Daisies portrays a series of acts in which two young women, both named Marie, rebel against the system. They trick old men into buying them expensive meals, making them believe that they will sleep with them in exchange for champagne and cake, only to force them onto a train heading out of town. In another scene, they drink an obscene amount of alcohol only to be thrown out of a cabaret club. They have free love, steal, fight with each other and cut holes in their bed sheets. But the biggest act of all occurs at the end when they bombard an empty dining room--all but food. The Maries destroy and devour all the opulent dishes before resorting to a food fight and dancing in their underwear on the table--sounds like fun to me! (Oh and the utter absurdity of this film being band for the reason that it "depicts food wastage". Food shortage in a Communist backdrop was firstly a matter of the government itself exporting goods out of the country).

In the end, after the girls are punished, they return to the dining room to clean up. As they sweep the table with a floor broom and place the broken dishes in place, they are heard whispering: "if we're good and hard working we'll be happy". After all their 'hard work', they lie down on the table only to be crushed by a chandelier. And what the hell does this mean? Probably that conforming and following order is equal to death. Chytilová, after being kicked out of film school for her 'controversial' approaches, attempted suicide, because for her it was either filmmaking... or nothing. Perhaps it is a reference to this segment of her life, perhaps not. Nevertheless, Chytilová is an inspiring woman and without a doubt the Agnès Varda of New Czech Cinema.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Exhibition Notes: Stasi Museum, Berlin

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Upon our roaming of the streets near Checkpoint Charlie, we stumbled across a museum dedicated to the many Germans affected by the Stasi in the German Democratic Republic of the 1950s to the late 1980s. Now if you have not yet seen Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others (2006), I suggest you put this on your "priority films to see" list. As I floated past the personal accounts of torture, paranoia and espionage, I could not help but compare them to scenes I had seen in the above mentioned film. I remembered how the main characters suffered from constant stress and obsessed over the idea that they were being watched. Berlin has certainly suffered its share of embarrassing histories, but the mere idea of spying on someone's private meanderings is something I could never comprehend. And it happened not so long ago either. This is only one example of the destruction caused at the hands of the secret police throughout Eastern Europe. Wether it was the German Stasi, the Securitate in Romania or the State Security (StB) in former Czechoslovakia, the function, apparatus and methods of practice were at the same level of absurdity.

The lives of others recorded and shelved. Files of suspected communist dissidents compiled by the Stasi in the GDR. Picture source.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Exhibition Notes: Rafal Milach "7 Rooms" at C/O Berlin

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

During my extended stay in Berlin this year I attended the C/O gallery where I was equally impressed and disturbed by the Larry Clark exhibition. Towards the last room of photographs, I noticed a separate exhibition by a Polish photographer named Rafal Milach. His project "7 Rooms" portrays the lives of seven young Russians from Moscow, Yekaterinburg and Krasnoyarsk. Alongside the large scale portraits detailing poetic scenery of Eastern European heaviness - carpets of snow and Stalinist iconography - Milach included interview footage of his subjects whom he visited regularly for six years.

Milach captivated me with his photographs, because they spark certain similarities to the socio-political situation that Romania finds itself in and that I have repeatedly argued in my research on Romanian cinema. The idea that Romanian cinema explores Romania's inability of letting go of the past. A sentiment that is mirrored in the C/O exhibition guide: "...Milach portrays the life of a generation caught between the mentality of the old Soviet regime and the ambitious new Russia of the Putin era."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Director's Profile: Paul Negoescu

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Paul Negoescu is a young and talented newcomer with a lot on his plate. Apart from directing a series of shorts, Negoescu has also written and produced the majority of his work. I first became familiar with the director when I saw his film, Acasa/ Home (2007), a 14 minute account detailing a conversation between a taxi driver and his client as he drives him home. They discuss politics regarding the European Union, traffic conditions in Bucharest and the expansion of Romanian beggars in Madrid. The passenger is a constructions engineer who works predominantly abroad and looks forward to returning home during festivities while the taxi driver has dreams of migrating out of Romania to a better life. Without getting too carried away and comparing it to Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth (1991), I have to say there were some similarities in the way that the characters seem to connect on some level (I am referring mainly to the vignettes Los Angeles and Helsinki). It is like that amazing conversation you had with a complete stranger on the train, only to part ways without exchanging contact details. Negoescu presents this feeling of knowing someone without really knowing them and it is executed with warmth against the backdrop of Bucharest, a city with stained with a cold recent history.

The online film journal Eastern European Film Bulletin (EEFB) provides more information on the director including an engaging interview conducted by Konstanty

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Communist Past: Romanian Revolution of 1989

By Olivia Maria Hărşan


An amazing series of images taken during the Romanian Revolution of 1989 that eventuated in the execution of the tyrannical communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his equally vindictive wife, Elena. Watch the video in it's entirety, it is really worth it.

Warning: Some disturbing images.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Film Still of the Month: Closely Watched Trains/ Ostře sledované vlaky (1966) Jiří Menzel

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Festival Report: Transilvanian International Film Festival 2012

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

 Florin Piersic

I was lucky enough to meet one of Romania's most renowned theatre and film actors, Florin Piersic, at this year's Transilvanian Film Festival. Piersic was more than happy to pose for a photo and engage in a quick exchange of words in the midst of receiving a considerable amount of attention from press and fans. The actor made a vital appearance at the 'Cinema Florin Piersic' in Cluj, supporting the latest feature directed by his son, Florin Piersic Jr, Killing Time (2012) a minimalist and down-played film that questions the fine line between realism and documentary dramas. An ode to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) with strands of extremism reminiscent of Gaspar Noe's oeuvre. Florin Piersic Jr. is bound to continue impressing audiences with his vision.

Trailer: Killing Time

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Film Still of the Month: Best Intentions/ Din dragoste cu cele mai bune intenţii (2011) Adrian Sitaru

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

A Communist Past: Recollections of a Recent Experience

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

There are many things about Romania in terms of its socio-economic and political stance that I have been questioning for a number of years now. But it was not until June this year that I started to gain answers. I opted to travel to Romania for a variety of reasons but I will keep the list short. The last time I paid a visit to my native land was ten years ago and I remember feeling a heaviness about the people and their deprived surroundings, especially in the capital of București. 

This was oddly contrasted to the positive optimism manifested throughout the Transilvanian cities and towns of Brașov, Sighișoara and Cluj. I wanted to see if I felt the same feeling on this trip especially after writing on Romanian cinema and culture and it seems I was right. I guess it did not help that we experienced a downpour of rain during our entire stay in București and that we constantly stumbled across abandoned lots subjected to garbage overflow and abandoned dogs skirting the exterior facades of decrepit buildings. 

 Capitol summer cinema

 Memorial of Rebirth dedicated to those fallen 
during the Romanian Revolution of 1989

 "The People's House" or Ceaușescu's Communist Palace

There were many cues associated to Romania's communist history which seemed to clash with the country's desire to move entirely into the present, somewhat parallel to the West. I spoke to a few Romanians who had never left the country, let alone seen the capital. It was as if the paranoia and fear of the communist era had remained engrained within them. Others had been to Canada and the States only to return to Romania as they found things to be "better" in their homeland. 

Being an immigrant is hard and quite a challenge. You have to mold your old identity in with the new one and adapt to the unknown. I remember how hard it was for my parents to settle in Melbourne back in 1991. We were poor but my parents worked extremely hard to make a life for themselves and it was worth it. Strange though, when I go back to Romania, people still ask me why my parents left, "isn't it good here in Romania" they ask. Instead of trying to imagine the sacrifices my family made to build a better life for themselves and remembering the turmoil of the early 1990's they ask why we turned our back on our identity.

If anything we are celebrating our identity in the most unique way by combining our Romanian culture with our adopted Australian one. We speak an amalgamation of Romanian and English and we eat Sarmale followed by Pavlova for Christmas. We are embracing the best of both worlds.