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Cristi Puiu to receive retrospective at LEFFEST '21

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LEFFEST ’21 will host a retrospective of Cristi Puiu’s work, one of the most remarkable filmographies of contemporary European cinema.

One could say that Cinema scrupulously obeys the physical principle of time’s arrow. But, if very few films acknowledge it, those that make it tangible are even rarer. Cristi Puiu’s oeuvre, which “believes that the best position of the camera is the one where death is visible”, constitutes one of these astonishing exceptions.  There we can find images for the irreversibility of time, the inexorability of entropy, the fate of a world that ages at an unthinkable speed. Puiu’s films, for which we are yet to find a theory or systematic proposition, point insistently towards a Great Death that eludes us, the death that, according to Rilke, “one has within oneself”, the “fruit around which all revolves”.

Critics frequently consider Stuff and Dough (2001), Cristi Puiu’s feature-length debut film, to be the inaugural moment of what is now called New Romanian Cinema. A movement – with names like Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu and Radu Jude – that gained its momentum with the universal acclaim of Puiu’s second film, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005). Refraining from commenting on the fairness of a label that aggregates such different films on the premise of the nationality of their authors, it must be noted that even within this grouping’s supposed stylistic coherence, where long shots and brutal stories of a morally bankrupt country abound, Cristi Puiu’s work retains a unique philosophical range and a thirst for the Absolute only comparable to that of great authors – Visconti, Buñuel, Oliveira, to name but three…

As insignificant or as personal as the conflicts portrayed in Puiu’s films may appear to be, they are filmed as if the consistency of a universe depended on them. In fact, the integrity of these fictional environments is entirely made up of pure movements of attraction and repulsion, the frown of one character opposed to the passioned monologue of another. This amplifying effect is so powerful that a family lunch like the one in Sieranevada (2016) seems to hold an entire moral verdict for our time. As with Shakespeare, every character synthetizes a philosophical system and radicalizes it: we enter the land of debate and interpersonal conflict that all of Puiu’s films comfortably inhabit. But his figures also hesitate, breathe, sigh, pass out, and break down, negating or distorting their own points of view - a lesson that cinema could only completely apprehend after Cassavetes, a notable albeit unoppressive influence in Puiu’s work.

Malmkrog (2020), his latest film, gives us the perfect image for the arrow of time. For three hours and 21 minutes we are involved in the death of an aristocratic world, one where people speak in capitalized words – God, Reason, Good and Evil –, a world that had to die in order for us to live. In this sense, and against the fear of aging and promises of immortality contained in the marketing aesthetics that currently dominate the public space, Puiu’s cinema offers a radical alternative. His films are deeply interested in decadence and in a way of life that fulfills itself through time, and through a sense of the present that has a past, a passing present that truly inscribes itself in human history.

If only because of its irreducible temporality, Puiu’s films already deserve to take their place among the greatest that this young century has produced. The fact that this theoretical ambition is also matched by a practical mastery of cinematographic forms is nothing short of extraordinary.

We are honored to have Cristi Puiu attend this year’s edition of LEFFEST. Celebrating its 15th year in 2021, the festival hosts a retrospective of the Romanian director’s work including all of his feature films: Stuff and Dough (2001); The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), acclaimed as the 5th Best Film of the 21st Century by The New York Times; Aurora (2010); Sieranevada (2016); and Malmkrog (2020), selected for the official competition at last year’s LEFFEST, and described as one of 2020’s top ten films by Cahiers du Cinéma.

The uninitiated now have the chance to discover this innovative concept of a simultaneously dramatic and philosophical cinema. As for the converted: what a golden opportunity to dive back into Cristi Puiu’s intriguing filmic universe.
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