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Mircea Daneliuc Tribute

Mircea Daneliuc, the ethnographer of the Romanian soul 
Mircea Danieluc is one of Romania’smost prominent filmmakers, with an oeuvre that is not limited to cinema (film directing, screenwriting, acting), but also includes the theater (play writing, stage directing and acting) and literature. A pioneering director of the 70s, he left his mark with subversive films that successfully evaded the Ceaușescu regime censors and then proceeded to record the despair and moral state of society after the revolution, equally influencing the Romanian filmmakers of his time and those belonging to the Romanian New Wave.
  Having as his starting point social reality and his personal experiences, Danieluc systematically tackled the dysfunctions and impasses of Romanian society, highlighting authentic characters and situations that functioned as a mirror of the Romanian soul and offered an invaluable picture of life in Romania during the 80s and 90s. At a time when Romanian cinema was of an exclusively ideological bent, Danieluc displayed singular courage, juxtaposing the regime’s propaganda with realism and immediacy, reflection, black humor and satire, while at the same time resorting adroitly to allegories and parables.
  The directness of the filmmaker’s gaze and his need for self-reflection – both of these features characterizing Daneliuc’s work as a whole – became apparent as early as his first feature film, The Ride (1975). In what was a unique way of viewing reality by the standards of that time, the mission of his heroes is not spent in upholding socialist ideals but instead becomes a journey of friendship and hope.
  This was followed by his film manifesto, Microphone Test (1980), a landmark in the history of Romanian cinema, whose realism would become a point of reference and a harbinger of the realism of the New Wave. Danieluc is innovative in terms of his form, enriching the fictional narrative with documentary-like scenes and peerless, cinéma-vérité- type moments, in a rare recording of daily life of that era. Through natural dialogue and composite characters, Danieluc captures bureaucratic absurdity, insoluble economic and social problems, conformism and opportunism, while at the same time commenting in a subversive way on the issue of social acceptance: he reinstates Ani, the outcast and “immoral” anti-heroine and deconstructs the “moral” Nelu (played by the director himself), who represents the morality of the regime and will go against the system in his effort to marry her.
  That same year (1980) saw the release of Foxhunting, based on the novel by Dinu Săraru, addressing what was a taboo subject in those days – the tragedy of the crushing of the agrarian class through the collectivization which took place in the 1950s – and constituting an insightful character study. In 1981, he wrote and directed The Cruise, a brave political satire which skewered the existing system, pointed to its collapsing authority and made references to emigration. Here, the character of the head “comrade” is portrayed in the most negative way possible, as a swindler who is obnoxious and cynical, who cares only for his personal interest – a truly remarkable stance for a film of that era. In 1984, the allegorical and philosophical Glissando came out. However, the film was censored and this led Daneliuc to hand in is Communist Party membership card in protest. Four years elapsed before his next film, Iacob (1988), an exemplary adaptation which surpassed the short story by Geo Bogza, about a peasant miner in Transylvania, on which it was based. Daneliuc conveys the financial distress, the human wretchedness and the struggle for survival of the submissive protagonist (a tour de force by the actor Dorel Vişan) through an atmosphere of harsh realism which is reinforced by the superb cinematography, editing and sound design. The opening and closing scenes, with their high aesthetic standards and tragic intensity have been described as the most memorable sequences Romanian modernism has produced in cinema.
  His first film after the revolution of 1989, The Eleventh Commandment (1991), was an allegory of the dictatorial character of Communism, and had to do with the notorious Pitești experiment – Pitești being a penal facility where torture was common practice for the “re-education” of prisoners. Daneliuc then returned to realism and portrayed, with immediacy and cynicism the moral condition of the country in the post-Communist era. In the trilogy that followed, Daneliuc focused on Ceaușescu’s heritage through the dysfunctionism and degeneration of society, as well as its exacerbation after the revolution, by using, according to critic Alex Leo Şerban, the characters and the situations as a vehicle for ideas. The tragicomic Intimate Bed (1993) is an apotheosis of despair, in which deception and the end of the illusions of an entire nation have led to abnormality, violence, hysteria and surrealism. In Fed Up (1994), degradation and misery rule: the hospitals are collapsing, the homes are deserted and the streets are empty - a commentary on the lives of the characters who are exhausted by their dreary, everyday existence and all they have left are irony and sarcasm. Finally, in The Snails’ Senator (1995), a political satire reminiscent of The Cruise in a modern-day context, comments on corruption and mocks the new political elite – the former communists who are now members of the democratic parliament. As an enemy of the Ceaușescu regime, Mircea Daneliuc used his biting wit to successfully transcend the ideological restrictions imposed on the freedom of expression and to undermine what, at the time, was considered acceptable. Through his films, he captured the pulse of his era and offered a fresh glance at the social reality of his country: he told simple stories about everyday people in a style which is often reminiscent of the documentary; he turned to new technical means; he underscored the importance of the smallest detail; while at the same time tackling philosophical issues and carrying out perceptive character studies, creating a cinema which acted as an ethnographic registry of his time and as a bellwether of the Romanian New Wave.
  As in the case of many other film directors of his time, Danieluc’s oeuvre did not enjoy the international exposure it deserved. This injustice we hope will be rectified by the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the “Balkan Survey” section, forty years after the screening of Danieluc’s first film.
Dimitris Kerkinos

1.  Fed Up / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
2.  Foxhunting / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
3.  Iacob / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
4.  Intimate Bed / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
5.  Microphone Test / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
6.  Roundtrip / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
7.  The Cruise / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
8.  The Ride / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
9.  The Snails’ Senator / Mircea Daneliuc, Romania
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