I don't think it's an exaggeration to talk about Călin Peter Netzer and Titus Muntean as "revelations." Neither of them belong to the "cool boys" of New Romanian Cinema. Both had their debuts before the "minimalist" Big Bang; Netzer's Maria was described at the time as an "opportunistic melodrama," while Muntean's Exam was "ambitious, but a failure." Very few would have bet that the two could keep up with the main players, and yet they still manage to do it, mainly because they proved themselves to be better directors then initially expected. Now, with the help of an "infrastructure" matured by the recent explosion (dp's, actors, scriptwriters, etc.), the two have succeeded admirably in overcoming such initial hesitations. Both Medal of Honor and Kino Caravan have some "new wave" traits: the small stories and heroes, the brilliant dialogue, the closely observed situations, the aspiration towards simplicity and authenticity, and the attention to revealing details, but, at the same time, both films have a delicacy, a compassion for characters and an affectionate humor which reminds us more of the Czech School rather than the documentary-style brutal realism of other filmmakers from the same generation. Netzer's film, made from Tudor Voican's excellent script (Voican thus establishes himself as the second major writer of Romanian cinema, after Răzvan Rădulescu), speaks impressively about the fragility of existence, and, moreover, of human dignity. Having as a starting point the real story of a retired old man who received a medal for heroic deeds, of which he had no idea, during World War II, and who sees his bitter life suddenly reaffirmed through this official acknowledgment, Medal of Honor is a wonderful "small" film which reaches unexpected levels of depth and complexity. It talks about old age, but also about a couple's crisis, about the illusive and intoxicating feeling of greatness but also of a turbulent, longdistance father-and-son relationship, about historical uprootedness and times suspended inbetween two worlds (mid-90s Romania), but also the need for recognition in an age of upturned values. I don't know any other recently seen post-communist tragicomedy able to break my heart with such delicate blows. As for Victor Rebengiuc: he's simply sublime playing the part of the pathetic but infinitely empathic patriarch, who, after regaining his self-respect, tries to regain the respect of his distant wife and his alienated son.
Muntean's film, Kino Caravan, is not faultless - it could have been more cohesive and it has some strained moments, but it still makes you believe in the universe it builds, which is not a small thing - it has credibility and emotional truthfulness. Based on a short-story by Ioan Groşan, Kino Caravan confirms Muntean's obsession for the way politics forcefully intervene in the life of common people, with catastrophic consequences: at the beginning of collectivization, a zealous young activist . with an iron fist hidden in a velvet glove arrives in a village in the middle of nowhere to screen a propaganda film. Still confused about the changes brought on by communism, the villagers have no idea what's to come. Little by little, the pastel-pastoral colors turn into bleak hues. Beyond the burlesque humor and the naiveté of the situations, a sinister undertone gradually insinuates itself, and the fundamentally good people from the village start to fear not only God, but also the new regime. There are a few remarkable performances, of Mircea Diaconu, Iulia Lumânare (an appearance as radiant as her name - Lumânare is the Roma-nian for "candle") and Dorian Bogută; the latter achieves the remarkable achievement of bringing life to the young activist, a character who could have easily been stuck in a cliché. The surprise caused by these films made by "outsiders" convinced me that even still waters can make waves.