2 April 2021

Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu’s Psychic Photographs


I have written a blog post about the psychic photographs of Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu (1838-1907).
  A polymath with wide interests, today he is perhaps best known for the remarkable Iulia Hasdeu Castle at Câmpina, named after his highly accomplished daughter who died at the age of 18, leaving her promise unfulfilled.

 As a result of his bereavement, Hasdeu threw himself into Spiritualism, an element of which took the form of making psychic images.  A number of these have been published, and I have written about his efforts in this area.  The article is on my other blog here:

 http://tomruffles.blogspot.com/2021/04/bp-hasdeus-psychic-photographs.html

6 March 2021

Born in Romania/Născut în România, by Liviu Ioan Stoiciu


Liviu Stoiciu’s Born in Romania/Născut în România (2014) is a collection of his poetry compiled by the Contemporary Literature Press, the online publishing house of the University of Bucharest.  The poems are presented both in Romanian and an English translation by Leah Fritz and Ioana Buşe, and are accompanied by a selection of photographs with rural subjects. The book’s title was chosen by the translators, not Stoiciu.  Editor Lidia Vianu’s introduction provides biographical details outlining Stoicu’s varied working life, background essential for an understanding of his writing.

 He was born in Moldova in 1950.  In 1968 he joined the army for two years and after that moved from job to job.  Refusing to become a member of the Communist Party, he remained an outsider and was considered a dissident.  This proved to be an advantage after 1989, and he was in the first post-Ceaușescu government, though not being a party man by temperament he quit after three months.  Despite his lack of a focused work life, he has always been a writer, having had his first poem published (in a communist paper) in 1967.

 The poems collected here tersely, and often cryptically, address such themes as aging, the elusiveness of memory, difficulties with relationships, the shallowness of modern life, the inevitability of change, the past as simultaneously sweetly nostalgic and an encumbrance that needs to be escaped, and foreboding for the future.  He touches on nature but also politics, apparently hopeful for improvements but pessimistic about the alienation of the human condition and the failures of institutions both religious and secular.

 If that all sounds on the dour side, he is not didactic about it and there is some humour, albeit wry.  His poetry interweaves lived experience with fantasy, but always foregrounds the independent spirit he has displayed throughout his career.  He said in an interview that his name is etymologically linked to stoic, and stoicism has been a touchstone.  It could be he doesn’t see much to laugh about: if for Brecht the bitch was in heat again, for Stoiciu it has had its puppies (‘Pierdut’/’Lost’), and we have to deal with the consequences.

 Following the poems are further biographical details (including the startling fact that his mother was killed by lightning a few months after his birth), and a list of his publications.  He has been a prolific author, having written novels, a play and journalism as well as poetry, though in recent years he seems to have slowed down.  Considering his emphasis on personal independence, it is surprising to read that he joined the Romanian Writers’ Union, though only after 1989.  Născut în România concludes with brief information about the translators and illustrator.

 It would have been useful to know the approximate dates of the poems’ composition in order to track the evolution of Stoiciu’s style and subject-matter, particularly to see what changes occurred after 1989.  The rationale for this selection, and a more extensive discussion of its themes, would have assisted enormously in orienting readers new to his work.  However, the volume is still a welcome introduction, even though it only skates the surface of his output.

 The e-book is available free on the Contemporary Literature Press website:

 https://editura.mttlc.ro/liviu-stoiciu-poems.html

12 February 2021

Crossing Continents: Europe’s Most Dangerous Capital


The episode of BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents programmeEurope’s Most Dangerous Capital’, first broadcast in January 2021, returns to Romania to look at Bucharest’s parlous housing situation.  There are two related strands in the report.  The first is overcrowding in the blocks of flats built during the Ceaușescu era called ‘camine de nefamilisti’, ‘homes for those without families’.  Colloquially known as ‘cutie de chibrituri’, ‘matchboxes’, they were designed to house up to 400 singletons but are now often occupied by families who crowd into the small space.

The programme’s presenter, Simona Rata, grew up in one in Bucharest, sharing a room with her parents and grandmother, so she knows whereof she speaks.  Housing numbers of residents not envisaged by the architects puts strain on what already were basic shared facilities.  Their squalor earning them the nickname ‘Romania’s favelas’, camine de nefamilisti were intended to be temporary and are in poor condition.

The other significant problem facing Bucharest is earthquakes, obviously of even greater concern when buildings were poorly built and are already compromised by previous movements. The city has Europe’s highest earthquake rate, with an average of three significant tremors each century.  One in 1977 killed and injured a large number of people and destroyed up to 35,000 buildings, leaving huge numbers damaged. 

The communist regime claimed at the time that buildings had been repaired and refurbished, and their residents were told to return despite clear signs of faults which elsewhere would have had them condemned.  In practice there was little restoration and buildings remained in a dangerous condition.  After Ceaușescu fell people thought the issue would be dealt with, but it wasn’t.

So people are still living in buildings damaged in 1977 and by further earthquakes in 1986 and 1990, not as bad as 1977 but exacerbating the state of the already weakened structures.  In the past people had little understanding of the matter but are now becoming increasingly aware of the effects the earthquakes have had on the housing stock and the potential consequences of another major one to these buildings.

In 1996 the 100 buildings deemed most vulnerable to earthquakes were labelled with a red dot but remained inhabited and nothing further was done, on cost grounds.  Red dots are still put on buildings, the total now about 350, but estimates of the total in need of urgent attention range from 2,000 to 3,000.  It is going to take a huge effort to make the buildings of Bucharest safe.

Currently there is a debate about using public money to strengthen what are now private properties: Romania has the highest rate of home ownership in the world - 96%.  After 1989 there was a rush to sell off state-owned properties cheaply to avoid having to deal with the massive costs of rectifying past inactivity.  Purchasers were apparently generally ignorant of the problems, and wouldn’t have had the money to put them right anyway.  There is little political will to deal with the state of affairs.

In the meantime there is a campaign to take action to minimise deaths in future earthquakes, such as drawing up plans to coordinate the emergency response and training rescue dogs.  The intention is to act as a model to show the authorities the way forward.  The poor suffer disproportionately in any catastrophe, and Bucharest has a large population already living in difficult circumstances: residents of the cutie de chibrituri will likely suffer more than most.

This is not a programme that will please the Bucharest Tourist Board, especially the part about pedestrians being killed by falling masonry, but there were really two programmes here bolted together, one on Bucharest’s housing crisis, another on the lack of preparedness for an earthquake and the effect one would have on substandard buildings.  The result left many unanswered questions, and deeper analysis would have improved it immeasurably.

To begin with, why is there such a housing crisis forcing so many people to crowd into these tiny rooms, to the extent that one woman has made her home in what originally was a communal toilet (she is having to find the money to reimburse fellow residents the taxes they paid on the facility before she can claim ownership despite having met the purchase price).  Why was she allowed to buy it, and what are sanitary conditions like with such a concentration of residents?  What about Romanian health and safety legislation?

Broadening the discussion, how was the astonishingly high ownership rate achieved and how can so many people afford to buy when the average wage is so low?  Were people purchasing damaged property really unaware of what they were inheriting – does nobody in Bucharest have a survey done, or was it the only option if a rental sector did not exist?  What is the mortgage debt burden, and the repossession rate?  Are pressure on accommodation and limited rental options driving homelessness?

What is it like for those who do have to rent; what protections, if any, do they enjoy?  Why aren’t more houses being built both to ease pressure on the existing stock and allow unsafe buildings to be demolished?  Is government and business corruption a factor?  What, if anything, is the European Union doing to help?  Is the situation a driver of emigration (again, the toilet flat owner is having to work abroad to pay the outstanding debt)?

All that is too much to cover in a thirty-minute radio documentary, of course, but there are issues to explore of which overcrowding and hazardous buildings are symptoms.  I wanted to hear less about training rescue dogs for a future earthquake, rather about why things had gone so badly wrong with Bucharest’s housing, and more to the point what can be done to fix them.  Hopefully Simona Rata will go back to do another programme expanding on the subject, and not duck the difficult questions.

11 January 2021

The Băiuţ Alley Lads, by Filip Florian and Matei Florian


Florian brothers Filip (born 1968) and Matei (born 1979) combined forces to write an elliptical tale of growing up in Romania during the communist regime’s final decade or so.  However, rather than producing a consolidated novel in traditional form, they riff off each other in separate sections, creating a kaleidoscopic picture of their childhoods in Băiuţ Alley, Camp Road, Bucharest.  The adult pair look back dispassionately but affectionately on their younger selves living in a standard, depersonalised block of flats known by a number and easily confused with others by the unwary.

 Presumably there was some kind of pre-agreed general structure, but the narrative has the feel of a conversation, unfolding with a degree of spontaneity as each author develops the other’s threads, weaving a tapestry that is a cross between a collaboration and a duel.  Is it a memoir or fiction?  Lack of dialogue suggests the former, but it is marketed as a novel.  Writing in novel form when there is a grounding in lived experience blurs the life-writing boundary, and the reader needs to be careful about taking the narrative(s) on trust.

 They boys have different attitudes, analytical Filip recalling practical aspects, an older brother perspective; Matei, trying to carve out a distinctive voice, foregrounds more lyrical, intuitive moments, highlighting feelings and with a proneness to fantasy (Matei’s imaginary friends Știm and Ștam, who appeared from the mustard, have their own section).  There is an 11-year age gap so they have diverging memories, Filip able to remember Matei as a baby and events Matei was unable to understand at the time.

 The result is a dialogue conducted by different but complementary voices, one offering events as he remembers them, the other critiquing and developing them from his perspective to show that memories, especially in childhood, can be distorted and the implications not comprehended.  It is a way for the brothers to discuss matters they did not necessarily completely digest or talk about at the time, aided by the level of detachment adulthood brings. 

 These are neighbourhood kids able to take care of themselves and their territory, and not above petty revenge on adults who displease them.  They spend a lot of time playing outside, forming friendships and enmities, getting into mischief and observing what is going on around them in a way that is less common now.  They come into contact with a broad cast of characters – the extended family, neighbours, teachers, friends.  There may be frictions but it is a reasonably happy community.

 They adore their mother despite the rueful acknowledgement of her lack of culinary skills.  She is a constant presence, father often being away at work on construction sites and, they later learn, chasing other women.  When he is home there are opportunities to go with him to football matches, or the cinema, and listen to radio shows together.  Filip and Matei share a love of football, playing it in the street and following Steaua București and Dinamo București.

 In some ways their childhood is typical of the 1980s, but in others, as in all countries, it has its particular rhythms.  Childhood everywhere, for most, has its own wonder, the freshness of a time before adult inertia sets in.  There is a great deal of humour, though at the same time willingness to tackle difficult issues that often come to children, such as the inevitable deaths, including of their beloved grandfather who had represented the rural wild places in contrast to the familiar city, the divorce of their parents, remarriage of their mother to a man they do not much care for, and the surprise appearance of a half-brother.

 The wider oppressive political situation is barely noticeable because we are seeing the world through the youngsters’ eyes, and they are more concerned with their immediate situation than they are with the form of the society in which they live.  The system may be filtered through to them by state-approved education and media, yet the children can rise above it – mainly by ignoring it.  Ideology has a tendency to become incorporated into games, and thereby rendered impotent.

 One may have needed to be present in that place and time to completely appreciate the references (despite helpful endnotes elucidating obscure aspects), but children are similar enough for readers with no first-hand knowledge of growing up there and then to be able to empathise with these Băiuţ Alley lads.  There is a poignance in their depiction, but it is not sentimental.  Nor is it miserabilist; this is certainly not the drab childhood an outsider might have expected to have been the norm in Ceaușescu’s Romania.

 Relations between brothers generally are rarely entirely smooth, but this pair came through, as not all siblings do, with their solidarity intact despite Filip’s frequent assertions of seniority: after all, they wrote a book together.  The overall feeling is one of warmth, and when the family leaves Băiuţ Alley, with the realisation that even without one’s presence life there goes on, the reader feels a sadness at the closing of the chapter, and the book.

 Băiuțeii was published in 2006, and the University of Plymouth Press edition, translated by Alistair Ian Blyth, in 2010.  The attractive UPP hardback, part of its series 20 Romanian Writers, includes a section of paintings by Ioan Atanasiu Delamare at the front.

29 December 2020

Suspense 101 (2012)


Director George Dorobanțu made Suspense 101 (2012) the year after Bucharestless, and it represents a marked change of pace, from hymning the energy and variety of the city to a small-scale short with one actor in a single location.  The scenario for the 17-minute Suspense 101 is minimalist.  A woman, played by Iulia Verdeș, wakes up stretched across a corridor with her back against a door.  Questions immediately arise: how did she get there, has something been done to her?  She is disoriented and cannot move but her clothing doesn’t look disarranged.  There are personal possessions scattered round, and empty bottles that may have contained drugs. 

 As she gradually takes in her surroundings and begins to regain mobility, the silence is broken by strange noises, like a distant roar followed by thumps, and she realises there is something behind the door she is leaning against.  Now possessing some mobility, she is able to move to the other side of the corridor as the noises continue.  A strange light can be seen under the crack at the bottom of the door and the handle is shaken from the other side.  As tension mounts the camera breaks the 180-degree rule by shooting from either side of her to create a sense of instability. 

 The colours are muted, restricted to a muddy palette emphasising the grungy murk, the sort of space that does not encourage one to linger.  There are signs of habitation at one end of the passage and reddish light (suggesting blood) filtering in round a corner at the other, but there is a feeling of isolation, and an assumption no external help is going to be available.  The sense of foreboding is amplified by Lex Dumitru’s subtle sound design which plays with horror conventions and introduces noises that may or may not be significant.

 The poster’s strapline is ‘All you need for a thriller is a girl and a door,’ evoking the old saw that 'all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.'  It is fair to say though that a gun holds more promise than a door for excitement.  Raymond Chandler tied the two objects together when he said: ‘When stumped, have a man come through a door with a gun’, and here the suspense is generated by wondering if anything is going to come through the door, and what level of threat it would pose if it did.

 101 in the title suggests a basic introduction, and this is suspense stripped to its elements: a possible threat, dread, isolation, vulnerability, disorientation, uncertainty, voyeurism, a delayed payoff.  There may be danger, it is impossible to be sure, which generates tension in the character and in the viewer.  Both are fearful yet fascinated, the character perhaps unfeasibly fascinated when the natural impulse would more likely be to try to move away from the door towards the lighted end of the passage to escape – but then suspense and naturalism are not natural bedfellows.

 The film ends with the woman, who has hitherto always been seen in profile, looking straight at the camera, determination on her face, while inviting with a gesture a still-unseen opponent to advance.  Has the door now opened, is she facing whatever is coming through it, and is that something us?  Is the reality better or worse than imagination suggests?  Earlier she found she had a scorpion key fob, and at the climax a flick-knife with a scorpion motif on the handle which she handles confidently.  Perhaps it is whatever is on the other side which should be cautious in the encounter.

 The film is available on the Cinepub platform.

26 November 2020

The Atlas of Beauty, by Mihaela Noroc


Romanian Mihaela Noroc has travelled extensively since 2013 photographing women in everyday situations, and in The Atlas of Beauty: Women of the World in 500 Portraits (2017) she presents colour images taken in about 50 countries.  There are women of all kinds, from different backgrounds and of different ages (though the bulk of them are fairly young, perhaps reflecting the author’s own age).  Most are photographed in the street, presumably stopped in passing; in other cases she has sought out subjects, such as in Kurdish-held territory and in refugee camps.

A number of the photographs have a paragraph of biographical commentary attached, occasionally with the subject’s name, others simply note the places they were taken.  Several pages consist of thumbnails with no further information, presumably because of space constraints.  Often, however, we learn about subjects’ lives, which are frequently hard, and their aspirations, giving depth to the portraits.  Noroc is keen to show women carving a role for themselves, particularly in male-dominated professions.

 Naturally there are a number of photographs of Romanian women (Noroc lives in Bucharest), plus a Moldovan who happened to be in Romania to sing at a concert.  Romania has not been privileged in any way as Noroc is internationalist in her outlook, though surprisingly half the Romanian shots were taken in Bucharest when one would have expected her to have travelled more widely in her own country.

 While the book’s title might lead the reader to assume these are going to be Vogue-style shots, Noroc’s intention in fact is to challenge conventional notions, expanding the term to find beauty in all women, not restricting it to those who conform to a particular commercialised notion which is selling a sexualised image in the service of profit: a male conception of what constitutes attractiveness.  As she points out, that representation becomes a norm against which women often judge themselves, frequently with negative consequences. 

 Instead, Noroc wants to highlight that the western glamour standard is artificial (conversely those cultures which insist on a male-imposed idea of what constitutes ‘modesty’ also inhibit women’s free expression).  If those she approached felt they were not beautiful, or looking too dowdy to be photographed, they were judging themselves by an external criterion.  Women, she argues, should be able to be themselves, without external demands or constraints, to demonstrate there is diversity in beauty, and beauty in diversity.  It is an authenticity coming from within: she only uses natural light, a good decision as lighting can be used to manipulate the look and introduces an editorial aspect.

 She emphasises the importance both of valuing roots (often photographing women in traditional costumes) and of looking forward, always stressing tolerance, compassion and kindness.  There is a campaigning edge because she depicts women clearly living under oppressive cultural and religious strictures.  She uses her photography to break down barriers of all kinds, to remind us that we are part of one family and should be looking for connections, not differences, to improve the world.

 This is not a systematic survey, and many women refused her request to take a picture, because of mistrust or lack of confidence, but often because of patriarchal social pressures.  She also has quite a few countries to go, so it is a stretch to call it an atlas.  Admittedly in many cases Noroc faced language problems, but I would like to have had more text to amplify the photographs, and learn about the wider situations of those depicted.  The photograph was the thing, the words, which would have helped the reader to know about those photographed, are often either perfunctory or absent.

 One final point: noroc in Romanian means luck, so I wondered if it was actually a pseudonym.  Either way, she has made her own luck in initiating a project that reminds us of our interconnectedness, and in so doing touched many.

15 November 2020

Forest of the Hanged, by Liviu Rebreanu


Liviu Rebreanu’s 1922 novel Pădurea Spânzuraţilor is dedicated to his brother Emil.  It was partly inspired by Emil’s execution for spying and desertion during the First World War while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army.  His death is paralleled by the fate of the main character, Apostol Bologa.

 Bologa is a Romanian fighting for Austria, a subject in its sprawling multi-ethnic empire.  Many serving in its army had divided loyalties, pitted against soldiers from the same background but on the other side (Romania fought the Central Powers off and on during the conflict).  Born in Transylvania – then Hungarian, later ceded to Romania under the provisions of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon – Bologa finds himself in the war more or less by accident, to impress a young lady, and possessing no strong patriotic motives.

 The titular forest of the hanged is a dark foreboding place where executions are conducted, the bodies left as a warning to others.  The novel opens with Bologa participating in a military tribunal and the subsequent hanging of a Czech officer, and ends with his own, giving the narrative a circular structure.  Initially he considers he is doing his duty, even exceeding it by testing the rope for the Czech’s execution.  Yet witnessing the death starts Bologa on a journey of introspection.

 He is not a physical coward and is wounded in action, his convalescence giving him time for reflection.  Coming to doubt his previous certainties, he realises he could easily do what the Czech officer did in the same circumstances.  He acknowledges the pointlessness of war, and asks himself precisely what cause he is fighting for when people are all the same under the skin.  Unfortunately, deciding on a course of action is not easy.  He is an intellectual who is contemplative by nature and slow to reach conclusions, hence the novel charts at length his struggle to reconcile his duty with his moral sense.

 Transferred to the Romanian front, these reflections become urgent.  He finds he has more in common with those he is facing than with those he serves.  For the Austro-Hungarian high command there is no problem sending ‘their’ Romanians to fight soldiers of the same ethnicity because they should be loyal to the emperor, but as he faces his fellow Romanians, Bologa’s sense of priorities shifts, reaching crisis point when he is again ordered to sit on a tribunal, holding life and death in his hands.  Appalled at the prospect, he walks haphazardly towards the Romanian lines, with severe consequences.

 This is not a novel about armies in battle, rather it charts Apostol’s inner turmoil.  It is a spiritual battle, as evinced by Biblical echoes.  God is a constant reference: Apostol’s name is derived from apostolic; three men protesting their innocence are hanged on Easter Monday, with orders given for their bodies to hang for three days; twelve alleged deserters are caught in the woods; there are numerous references to lightness and darkness.  Rebreanu sees Bologa as a martyr, thereby exonerating his own brother Emil, as he explores the multiplicity of motives that take men to war, and the multiplicity of emotions they feel when they are there.


11 October 2020

The Romanian Riveter


Since the European Literature Network’s The Riveter magazine’s launch in 2017 there have been eight issues, previous ones devoted to translations into English of Polish, Russian, Nordic, Baltic, Swiss, queer, and German literature.  The latest addresses the Romanian scene and bills itself as ‘the first ever magazine of contemporary Romanian literature in English.’  In fact, it focuses mainly on a particular area of Romania, Timișoara and Banat, though other parts of the country are covered.

With under 180 pages at the disposal of the guest editor, Tudor Crețu, director of one of Timișoara’s literary festivals, this can only skim the surface of Romania’s (and its diaspora’s) output.  The emphasis is on fairly recent works, mixing well-known names with some unknown outside Romania.  Crețu introduces the selection by explaining the evolution of Banat’s literary history before and after the 1989 revolution, an event in which Timișoara played a significant role.  He stresses the richness of the region’s cultural heritage, sitting on the hinge between Central and Eastern Europe and soaking up a wide range of influences.

The rest of the magazine mixes poetry and prose with reviews and more general commentary.  Many of the contributors, the poets in particular, will be unfamiliar to a non-Romanian audience, and some have never previously been translated into English, but there are a few familiar names such as Mircea Cărtărescu, Norman Manea, Ioana Pârvulescu and in particular Herta Müller, who needs no help with her career, though her inclusion is justified by her origins in Banat.

Providing further perspectives, Alistair Ian Blyth discusses translations and their publishers and the significant contributions he has himself made, not only working on Romanian literature but also Moldovan; and Susan Curtis of Istros Books looks at the publishing of translations from Romanian, with well-deserved plugs for her own efforts to promote Romanian writing to English-language readers.

The Riveter aims to celebrate the best of European literature, and assist accessibility, to which end lists of selected poetry and fiction by Romanians (in German, Hungarian or French as well as Romanian) that have appeared in English since 2010 provide a useful source for further investigation.  The Romanian Riveter celebrates a national literature which deserves to be better known internationally.

21 September 2020

Fata care mănâncă pizza / Girl Eating Pizza (2015)


Adrian Cârlugea, Bogdan Coste and Ion Indolean’s Fata care mănâncă pizza (Girl Eating Pizza) is a five-minute short film shot on a Romanian street corner in which an unseen director choreographs the entrances, exits, and actions while in frame, of people, vehicles and the occasional pigeon.  Except it becomes apparent that in fact these are general passers-by going about their daily business with a voice-over making it seem they are being directed to perform the gestures they are making anyway.  The concept is lifted (with acknowledgement) from The Girl Chewing Gum, a 1976 short made in London by John Smith.  Both films nod to the French New Wave and in particular Francois Truffaut’s La Nuit américaine, were shot on random, though busy, corners, and utlise limited camera movements.  The films’ titles are taken from small moments which pass quickly and would not stand out unless drawn attention to, the young lady eating pizza as she walks echoing the earlier girl chewing gum.

 There are obvious differences of course, not least the Romanian street’s greater attractiveness compared to Smith’s grimy Dalston Junction. The modern film is in colour and apparently recorded on a phone, though thankfully the image is stable, whereas Smith’s is black-and-white 16 mm.  The former also observes the unities, whereas Smith eventually claims to be standing in a field 15 miles from Hackney and switches to a 360-degree pan of a rural landscape to conclude his film.  Most significantly, in terms of style it could be argued that Fata care mănâncă pizza is purer in following through its intention than is The Girl Chewing Gum.

 That is because Smith quickly abandons the deception he is conducting proceedings, by panning up to a clock and pretending to direct the speed of the hands, and giving rapid-fire lists of ‘instructions’ no assistant director could follow.  He breaks the link between voice-over and events, and therefore the assumption of cause and effect; we see the narration had to have been added afterwards and he is describing what has happened, not giving orders.  Eventually he abandons the pose of director altogether and makes up stories about passers-by (a man is going home, another robbed a post office and has a gun), including surreal elements (references to a blackbird with a nine-foot wingspan, a man with a helicopter in his pocket).

 Cârlugea, Coste and Indolean, however, maintain the illusion that they are dictating the mise-en-scène longer, the cumulative implausibility being how one would organise so many actors and why one would want to.  But when the camera pans to the right to show a busy main thoroughfare full of pedestrians and traffic (echoing Smith’s pan to show the queue outside the Odeon cinema) they cannot convince they are able to synchronise the landing of a bird on a distant building and the appearance of a priest, just as Smith cannot convince that his pigeon wrangler is able to organise specific flight paths through the frame.  Even so, Fata care mănâncă pizza concludes by implying the shot has been ruined by a careless camera movement and needs to be redone.

 Smith is rightly celebrated for the trick he plays on audiences used to the idea of the auteur commanding the action like a monarch (instead he is subservient to it), and for demonstrating that originality need not be constrained by resources.  Irrespective of the experimental film conceit of pretending to control the arbitrary, once we realise we are not watching fiction we can appreciate the documentary aspect of both these films.  Such ordinary scenes have their own fascination which grows stronger as they recede in time.  Supplementing such pleasures, Smith, Cârlugea, Coste and Indolean remind us that those who claim to govern may only give the impression of being in charge while life swirls, unheeding, around them.

  

Fata care mănâncă is available on CinePub:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkiwJVlF2qk&list=PLn0Jy9I2VIyRdOlNnOsu8TCaUSUDHrwzP&index=49&t=0s


11 September 2020

Five Romanian Poets, by Lidia Vianu (ed.)


Translated and edited by Lidia Vianu, the 2020 collection Five Romanian Poets (Cinci poeți români ) was published by the Contemporary Literature Press at the University of Bucharest.  The five are Romița Mălina Constantin, Diana Geacăr, Emil Nicolae, Ioan Es. Pop and Floarea Țuțuianu.  They are winners of the 2019 Lidia Vianu Translates poetry competition, run by Vianu herself and aimed at choosing Romanian poems not only on their merits but for their translatability into English.

The writers provide short personal statements preceding their poems but the reader will need to look elsewhere for fuller biographical and bibliographical information.  There are between five and seven poems for each, appearing as parallel texts.  These give a flavour of their styles, but again a larger selection would have been welcome.  Translating them, Vianu says that she could have written the lines herself, so the choices are personal and not necessarily representative of the wider poetry scene in Romania.

Still, translation of Romanian poetry is not a crowded field, and Lidia Vianu is to be thanked for making these available to an English-language audience.  They all work well in translation, the best focusing on small gestures, domestic scenes, aging, and the passing of the generations.  There is little sense of political or wider social engagement, perhaps reflecting Vianu’s own attitudes.  Leaving aside issues of selection criteria, what we have here is a good introduction to these particular voices, and future competitions should cumulatively make accessible a significant body of Romanian poetry in English translation.

The e-book is available free on the Contemporary Literature Press website: