Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is gaining US recognition
By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
When film-maker Cristian Mungiu lifted the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, a high point in the history of Romanian cinema was attained.
His prize-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - a gritty drama set in the dark days of Ceausescu's dictatorship - followed triumphantly on the heels of other Romanian films to have made a recent international impact.
With Mungiu's film winning awards in the US and picking up a Golden Globe nomination, there is a palpable sense that Romanian cinema is the flavour of the month.
There is also hope it could also pick up the country's very first Academy Awards nod.
Era of stagnation
The 39-year-old director says the current crop of young, successful Romanian film-makers emerged in 2001 and began to get noticed after an era of stagnation and "failed" cinema about the communist years.
"Someone young had a film entered at Cannes and the following year I had a film at the festival - then we started to get awards," he explains.
"The new directors wanted to preserve this level of film-making and started positive competition. This got Romanian cinema a lot of attention."
Mungiu's 432 starkly tells the tale of two friends who seek an illegal abortion in dreary, tense 1980s Romania.
He says the skill of bringing human stories to the screen epitomises the strength of the country's contemporary cinema.
"I wanted to tell the story of these people and not the system. We as directors are all realists and decided that film should be about how real life is and how real people talk," he says.
Mungiu, also a producer, hopes the current interest in Romanian film does not prove to be just a flash in the pan.
"It will continue as long as the talent to keep making honest films and not being seduced by their own success still exists.
"I never make predictions about anything, but I hope it's not just a festival trend which gives special attention to cinema from certain countries. If you have a strong story, people are going to be interested."
Mungiu says he "won't be disappointed" if an Oscar nomination fails to materialise, and feels that the Palme d'Or is a more "reasonable" award for his small budget picture.
"I can't really appreciate what the consequences of a nomination would be, but I'm very calm."
12.08 East of Bucharest was also recognised at Cannes
Of the attention his film has grasped since May, he adds: "I have no idea whether all of this can last, but I'm going to use my influence well."
Mungiu's cinematic muscle will continue to be flexed with the Tales of The Golden Age - a series of human interest stories from the communist era, of which 432 is the first.
Other Romanian directors will be involved in the ongoing project.
Michael Gubbins, editor of Screen Daily, recently visited the Romanian capital Bucharest, and calls eastern Europe "a rich film-making area with a lot of strong stories to tell".
"They can tell tales which make our own look rather insipid. Romanian film-makers are developing these skills - it has become a credible cinematic country," he says.
"Romania has been put on the map and there are strong possibilities for growth."
But he concedes that another country is likely to be the buzzword in 2008, even though previous international hotspots, including South Korea and Denmark, have endured.
Meanwhile, Mr Gubbins is personally optimistic about 432's major US awards hopes.
"When you look at the other films, there is something extraordinary about it. It doesn't take a moral stance on abortion which may work in its favour there.
"I don't think there's too much else like it."
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days opens in the UK on 4 January, with a limited release in the US from 25 January.