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Cristi Puiu
Romania / France / Switzerland / Germany, 2010

The New Romanian Cinema is still on a roll - not so new nowadays and a little taken for granted. Maybe we've become too familiar with its potent mix of social realism, psychological focus and formalist concerns, so much so that the achievements of an individual film can get undervalued. The two major Romanian releases of the year are fine examples of the style. Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose is the more standard offering, a bit too predictable in its early stages with its realist look, its long takes, camera-on-the-move, and whip-pans. But it's grounded in a tremendous acting performance by Luminita Gheorghiu (she was the paramedic in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), so good that you can forget what a monstrous woman she is, both in herself and - this is the film's point - as a representative of her class. Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, on the other hand, is quite simply superb, one of my favorite films of the year. Slow-burning, intense, and with a finely calibrated style, right from that opening shot as the camera follows in the wake of one character's manic rush alongside a pair of trains. Impressive, too, for a film based on a true-life case – an exorcism-to-death – it avoids Manichaeism or taking shots at easy (religious) targets, a fine example of the now clichéed "The terrible thing is that everyone has his reasons..."

Yet as much as I like Mungiu's film, I was more impressed, in awe even of an older Romanian film that I caught up with this year: Cristi Puiu's Aurora, from 2010. As far away as is possible from the immersive, sympathetic humanism of Puiu's earlier The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Aurora refuses any easy access. For three hours we follow the mundane preparations for a series of murders, but with the precise motivation and the nature of the protagonist's relationships kept consistently unclear (although it is all resolved in retrospect at the end—perhaps too much so). This is all grounded in a dour unactorly central performance by the director himself, a deliberate frustration of easy audience pleasure on a par with the ambiguities and confusions of the narrative. Some sequences, such as a late one with Luminita Gheorghiu as a next-door neighbour, hint at the more "standard" Romanian film this could have been - but it's a path that Puiu consistently and admirably refuses to take right through to the end.