Lalalilu Or The Stolen Childhood Of Romanian Film

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Present-day Romanian film lives a new childhood, if we consider at least the representatives of the New Wave, who are young and very young film directors with ages between 20 and 30. That is why their films are naïve, very close to childhood or adolescence, an age they have just detached themselves from, as filmmaker Cătălin Mitulescu confessed, who directed one of the most beautiful movies with and for children ever shot in the history of Romanian film – The Way I Spent the End of the World. The protagonist is Lalalilu, a child who witnesses the "end of the world," of dictatorship, and the beginning of hope in a better world, symbolized by a fabulous ship, which fills the screen in the final scene. Lalalilu has two friends, Silvica and Tarzan, and the three of them form a memorable trio. Eva, Lalalilu's sister, is not far from their age. She is 17 and falls in love for the first time. For the role of Eva, Dorotheea Petre received the Best Performance award in the Un certain regard section of the Cannes festival in 2006. The children play an essential part in this parable about the way we spent the end of the world, the end of the "golden age," because they – who were innocent victims, who were forced to write odes to the "beloved couple" (the Ceausescus), to turn life and the "heroic years" into folklore – can best express this apocalypse, which deprived them of a normal life. This was a typical phenomenon for the countries of the former socialist bloc, where people had their childhood confiscated and made part of an absurd ideal. The Way I Spent the End of the World oozes with this kind of reality. What a talent in expressing the smoldering revolt of Lalalilu's subconscious! After he witnesses his sister's escape abroad, Lalalilu tries to commit suicide. He is found in a reed thicket by Bulba, the neighborhood fool, and brought to life by being asked who had upset him. Lalalilu pronounces a name which he thinks is the reason of his sister's departure – "Ceausescu!" Lalalilu, who is a "decretzel," a child born as a result of Ceausescu's 1966 decree against abortion, denies his real maker, even if Bulba consoles him, "See what I'm going to do to this Ceausescu! Bulba's going to beat'm up and then no one else's going to bother you!" So it is no surprise when we see Lalalilu sling-shooting the TV screen, despotically occupied by Ceausescu and his never-ending speeches. Without being bombastic or without politicizing the discourse, the young director Cătălin Mitulescu's debut film subtly criticizes communism, starting from the stolen childhood, with a feast of concreteness and richness of tones. This recent bitter, gloomy past is seen with a lot of humor, with juvenile irony, and even with poetic gift, which makes The Way I Spent the End of the World a representative movie of the new generation.On the opening night, I went to the cinema and I looked at the directors present at the event: Sergiu Nicolaescu, Dan Piţa, Mircea Mureşan and Constantin Vaeni. All of them made movies with adolescents and children. Romanian filmography includes more than fifty titles with subjects inspired by teenagers and children's life, but few of them are as natural as Cătălin Mitulescu's. Our filmmakers have been champions in botching up children movies. From The Red Water Lily to The Freckled Boy and to Gheorghe Naghi or Elisabeta Bostan's movies, we see examples of children playing poorly, because the very subjects were often false, oversimplified, with no credibility. The Way I Spent the End of the World sets things right, taking revenge for all the children who have featured in Romanian movies. It is amazing to see how the child Timotei Duma interprets his very, very difficult role, and his friends Marius Stan and Marian Stoica, are just as good. They are able to create antithetic moments, from sadness to rich humor, in the scenes which parody the festivism of the era; from this point of view, Cătălin Mitulescu's movie may be compared to Burnt by the Sun, Nikita Mikhalkov's masterpiece, in which the Stalinist era is presented through the eyes of Nadya, a child too, a little girl with a gleam of genius, like Lalalilu, while the stolen childhood is symbolized by the overwhelming presence of the "pioneers" – marching groups of children bearing red scarves around their necks.It is an authentic Romanian movie, which makes me feel like a Lalalilu revolted against the Cannes jury members' myopia, who did not award this film a great prize, crowning with the Palme d'Or other more modest movies, such as L'Enfant. Why this reaction?, readers may ask. The answer is that, after seeing the movie twice, I felt the ironic tone growing indistinct, and I had the revelation of the tragic reality reflected in this movie. It seemed grave, serious, dealing with the suffering of a nation, as it turns out from the desperate request which the mother addresses to her son, the boisterous hero of the movie, who always does things in the wrong way: "Please, don't speak about God or about Ceausescu any more!" And indeed, these are the extremes of the long period of interdictions. Lalalilu promises, "Then I'll keep my mouth shut for the rest of my life." The result is he experiences a kind of stigmatized silence in the same way as Oskar, from Volker Schlöndorff's movie The Tin Drum – a three-year-old child who decides to stop growing up in an epoch of human involution – the Nazi ascent. Using the accordion, the violin and the cello, the composer Alexander Bălănescu creates a universe fallen apart, a bleak atmosphere of collapse, as in the staccato waltz, like an old record, which underlies the image of rejects churned out by the boys in the school workshop, or in the noisy score of instruments out of tune, which accompany the raising of the gigantic balloon, a counterpoint to the dirigible from Burnt by the Sun.It is not by accident that our young film director, following Nikita Mikhalkov, judges history through the eyes of a child. Cătălin Mitulescu's confession, which I mentioned in the beginning, is significant: "The movie is based on my memories and nostalgia, on my faith in this world. I made this movie because I missed the time spent in nursery school, in high school, in Romania." This is a profession of faith, the authentic confession of a Romanian, which makes me believe that, starting with him and The Way I Spent the End of the World, we will talk about the new Romanian film, about a new national school of film, and we may hope that Romanian film enters an eternal childhood – considered not as immaturity, but as normality, because childhood alone is the happy state we aspire to, irrespective of our biological or historical age.

by Grid Modorcea