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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.