LFF #3 -- Tales from the Golden Age

From the London Film Festival: Romania turns back the clock

Tales from the Golden Age
dirs: Cristian Mungiu, Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Hoffer, Constantin Popescu

Put all your Borat jokes to one side, please -- today we are here to learn about Romania. Over the past decade, the critical success of films such as The Death of Mr Lazarescu and 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days has led to claims of a Romanian "new wave": a surge in creativity, from one of the poorest countries in Europe, that rivals the glories of the French Nouvelle Vague or Italian neorealism.

Many of these films have excavated Romania's troubled recent history, particularly the decrepit final years of the Ceausescu dictatorship. This latest is no exception in that respect. Neatly timed to coincide with various events marking 20 years since the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, Tales from the Golden Age presents various directors' interpretations of five urban legends that were prevalent under Ceausescu.

That's the history bit. The good news is that this film is beautifully executed, with a lightness of touch that does indeed recall the exuberance of the Nouvelle Vague. (There's even an echo of Jean Rouch's contribution to Paris vu par . . ., another portmanteau film, at the end of this picture's final episode.) The stories, which are populated by scam artists, panicking villagers, official propagandists and secret police in black Volgas, are both funny and sinister -- often at the same time. Cristian Mungiu, the director of 4 Weeks . . ., conceived and scripted this project, but opened it up to other directors, the stipulation being that they had to be old enough to remember the age of communism. To see a country interrogating its own past in such an open and original way is quite something, particularly when the nearest we've got in recent years in Britain is Andrew Marr's glib take on the miners' strike.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Why is Britain falling out of love with Valentine’s Day?

Celebration of the “Hallmark holiday” is at an all-time low in the UK.

A recent YouGov poll found that only four in ten Britons will be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year. And – perhaps more tellingly, if, like me, you believe that Hollywood has a shrewd grip on the nuances of Britain’s collective attitude – this year’s Valentine’s Day romcom isn’t the usual boy-meets-girl love story, but a film about being single.

So are we falling out of love with Valentine’s Day? And why? It may be partially down to the financially independent self-proclaimed Bridget Jones generation. We’re living longer and doing it on our own; we’re all a bit more relaxed about the search for our significant other (and probably less inclined to say “significant other”).

Unmarried adults are now a majority for the first time, according to analysis of the 2011 census. In fact, the number of people living alone globally has increased by around 80 per cent in the 15 years leading up to 2011.

We’re marrying and having children later than we used to, divorcing with wild abandon and using apps to bring more efficiency to our dating lives. I’m 26, and I still feel panicky when someone chooses to take on any more responsibility than a Twitter account. But it was completely normal for my parents’ generation to be having babies at this age.

Our increasingly casual ways might just have rubbed off on our dating lives – in spite of apps supposedly making dating more accessible. An impressive 72 per cent of people would rather stay in and watch Netflix than go out, according to a recent study. OK, so that’s according to Netflix – but there’s no denying that we have been staying in and forgoing dating a lot more since that old recession.

One survey found that 59 per cent of men think Valentine’s Day is pointless. And of those remaining, one fifth think the most important aim of the day is to “get laid”. But men – and filmmakers – aren't the only ones to dislike the “Hallmark holiday”.

The burgeoning anti-Valentine’s movement – rebranding the day according to our beliefs – has the potential to kick more retailers to the curb than supermarkets’ enthusiasm for horsemeat (but more of that in my “Valentine’s gift guide for her” piece).

Bounce nightclub has run an anti-Valentine's party in London for the last three years, where the “bounce games gurus” dressed in their “love police” uniforms punish any “romance rebels” who don't abide by the strict anti-Valentine’s Day rules.

These rules include: no flowers, hearts, public displays of affection, emotional outbursts, pet names, sharing dessert, winking or whispering. And I’m assuming drugs are prohibited – no one wants to be tripping when they’re already in a room full of pretend police arresting people for unlawful eyelid movements.

But Bounce says its event has always sold out, and a spokesperson attributes its popularity to people increasingly preferring to socialise in groups, rather than in couples:

“Looking at sales this year, interest is far from dwindling. In general, there's been an increase in interest for group events as opposed to the traditional Valentine's event designed for couples.”

Another growing Valentine’s alternative is “Galentine’s Day”, which originated in 2010 from the show Parks and Recreation and is growing in popularity. The idea behind it is to celebrate the platonic love of female friendships in whatever way you and your gal pal wish.

This seems to be more positive rebrand of the single women’s Valentine’s boycott seen in the Friends episode of burning boyfriend memorabilia.

Last February, student Amelia Horgan helped to organise a very different anti-Valentine's Day party with her student union, as a fundraiser for her university’s local rape crisis centre. “The thinking behind it was that Valentine’s Day can be a really alienating experience for those of us who don’t, and don’t want to, match the standards of heteronormative romance,” she tells me. 

The party, she says, was “an alternative event that's much more fun than forgetting to book a reservation for dinner and sitting across from someone you've grown to silently resent, or sitting at home feeling worthless because you haven’t got a date”.

Perhaps a day celebrating traditional love is becoming more and more incongruous alongside an increasing openness towards discussing gender and sexuality.

We’re talking more about how sexuality transcends definition – a discussion that peaked in popular culture with model Cara Delevingne’s comments last year on the fluidity of sexuality. And then there’s Jayden Smith, who is becoming frontman for the increasingly blurred gender lines in fashion.

Valentine’s Day as we know it might be wilting, but I can’t help feeling more love for our willingness to replace it with something more fitting.