Cinema Almanac: continuing transition
Radu Jude articulates his discourse, and his films alike, on the basis of two convictions. One of them can already be discovered in his first short films, produced since 2004, and more convincingly in his feature film debut, The Happiest Girl in The World (2009) – where he operates along the dogmatic lines of realist cinema1 which is brought close to its purest form possible. Continuing with his most recent feature, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), which brought him the Golden Bear, which to this moment fluctuates between all of the radical opinions that it created, not just because of the award that it won and of its circulation in festivals, but also due to its documentary utility.
On another thought, Jude juggles with this type of cinema, and with one that lacks the constraints of classical formal and narrative language. But there is no clear recipe that is used to give the films their forms, as they often end up cohabiting a single space (like in the case of It Can Pass Through the Wall, 2014, Scarred Hearts, 2016, both inspired by the prose of Chekov, respectively Blecher, but which mark a regional interest towards citation and reproduction, in a variant that, at the time, was structured and fictionalized, or coherent2 for niche cinema) or they don’t, and so, starting with 2017, one can appreciate an endeavor where it’s visible that Jude uses the systematic rules less, to the advantage of editing and simplicity. In their absence, Cinema Almanac. Six Short Films becomes an extensive selection of short films made to represent a formalist exercise in which thematic preoccupations are put in the spotlight.
These recent shorts perfectly demonstrate how history, be it faraway or contemporary, be it ideologized by various persons, be it presented with the use of different techniques and decisions that lead to a certain message. What might be the most ambitiously assembled short film in this sense, of the six, is The Marshall’s Two Executions (2018), which starts from the premise of comparing two visual documents from two different eras. Jude uses the footage shot by Ovidiu Gologan in 1946, the very one which Sergiu Nicolaescu evoked in his film, The Mirror (1993), the other example that Jude uses to show the execution of Ion Antonescu in two dimensions. On the one hand, the raw footage on the original reel (almost destroyed by its repeated copying along the years), which is used in the short strictly in order to show pretty isolated moments of interactions between the sentenced men (who also included Mihai Antonescu, Constantin Z. Vasiliu, Gheorghe Alexianu). On the other hand, from The Mirror, he culls (and to supplement) the shots in which there is a lot more context, such as the scenes with the confession, the moment where King Michael I’s refusal to grant a pardon is read aloud, and the invocation of the execution order, which seem to be faithful copies from the contemporaneous stenograms3. Jude edits the two executions in parallel, of course, the real one, and one that is almost mirrored. And one of the aims behind this comparison of visual acts is to offer space to reflect on the past, and on the present that follows the flow of reproductions (differently understood upon each iteration), as is the case of The Mirror (which was the second attempt at producing the script, after the first, D Day, was censored.)
The Potemkinists (2022) begins with a presentation of the Potemkin battleship landing in the port of Constanța în 1995, due to the famous mutiny that was prompted by the working class of the Russian Empire. The short uses Serghei Eisenstein’s film, Battleship Potemkin (1925), which is evoked in the talk between Alexandru Dabija and Cristina Drăghici – performing an artist and, respectively, a bureaucrat who mediates his relationship to the Ministry of Culture. Aside from stills, Jude also uses the film’s exterior dialect, using editing as a means of determining the situation between parallel shorts. And the situation is, in fact, ironic. They go to visit a Monument to the Youth with the intention of restoring the statue which, in time, has been robbed of its relatively precious ornaments. Dabija’s performance brings to mind the candor of Groucho, while Drăghici portrays the archetype of an agent caught in the middle between the art world and that of bureaucracy – their interpretations recall Cocteau-esque4 irritation, but this time, in a comical fashion. Likewise, the short film is composed from different textures: archival photos of the battleship and of its sailors after they arrive to Romania, Eisenstein’s film (supplied as a Bolshevik pastiche) which serves as a complimentary to the short’s plot, which abusively attempts to present the beautiful surrounding landscape, with the purpose of underlining the fact that what we see is a construction.
In Caricaturana (2021), Jude cites Eisenstein once more, limiting himself at organizing a succession or photographs and analyses which the Russian filmmaker himself would have wanted to make in regards to the gestures of a fictional character, Robert Macaire, created by Frédérick Lemaître (a character from the world of theater, which was performed on the boulevards of Paris before the creation of the vaudeville). Over the course of this research dedicated to the often divergent position of the character’s limbs and of the head, Jude introduces a scene animated by the voices of the narrators, in which present the characteristics and values of Robert Macaire in various situations, without any conclusions. These narrators are not foreign to the concept of reading text, or at least Jude isn’t, nor is actor Șerban Pavlu, who has been collaborating with the director ever since 2006. They continue a tradition that began with I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018), where their voices meet over filmed photographs. Beyond the above function, Caricaturana also has a symbolic one – or rather, a dynamic one – through which it aims to compare the litographs to the series of shorts, a visual tome that departs from / arrives to a given sort of artistic freedom.
Jude goes even further in order to transfigure literary texts into a much more sensorial experience, this time for the Europalia arts festival, which always invites (as was the case of Romania, for the first time) various collaborators for its cultural events. In To punish, to surveil (2019), the director places his annotated notes directly on screen – extracted from The Memoirs of Colonel Lăcusteanu – while we listen to Șerban Pavlu reading for several minutes. Moments which should feel very intense are actually felt as moderate and sufficiently vague in order to remain focused on the next chapter. Essentially, the order remains pretty much chronological. In the first part, a literary fragment that describes society in the 19th century is chosen, followed by the presentation of a small biography of photos shot in the 20th century by a police chief. The ambition is one and the same, which is that of exploring the threads of memory, which often has very well-defined aims, as in the case of several of Jude’s shorts, or more vague, as in the case of this film. Does the short film remain as a test to a time in which regimental samples of other visions, be they reformist, political or social, are visible? Of course. But the result does not feel as comprehensive as it does in Memories from the Eastern Front (2022). It’s a good example of a photo-biography, just as I earlier described the attempt at working with unity, meaning, cause and effect. The film does not have any musical moments, but is focused on short written interventions, culled from archive documents, and which accompany photos from the album dedicated to the 6th Regiment of the Roșiori cavalry unit of the Romanian army. These war moments are joined with the antisemitic movements that has an increasingly negative and obstructionist effect towards the Jewish population. Jude uses the subjective parts of the letters to achieve harmony with the objectivity of the photos, which are thus not simply resumed to their immuable nature, but that, on the contrary, circulate around moments that are representative of the 1940s, such as: the consecration of a church, women working in the fields or the simple image of a farmstead.
Plastic Semiotic (2021) lacks the human figures one has been accustomed to in the selection of shorts. And that’s because it uses figurines that are reduced to stop-motion. Not unexpectedly, the ironic portrayal of a modern human’s journey from broth to death is (once more) full of references. The emblematic scene of a baby carriage falling down the Odessa stairs in Battleship Potemkin is reproduced, and possibly set in relationship with an innocence that is encroached upon by modern, grotesque forms of violence and philosophy. The beauty of these objects and figurines is willingly associated with the one that Charles Baudelaire applied and theorized in his art. Jude doesn’t only use it in an aesthetical fashion (combining various textures, colors, forms and sizes, close-ups and wide shots), but also to better appreciate it, to set it in contrast with the ugly and grotesque part, edited in what seems to be pairs of shots or successions. Moreso, the more we go further through various periods marked by stills, the more the figurines are choreographed in postures and situations that are extremely graphic and moralizing towards an attitude that is lascivious, racist and abusive in terms of privilege, all of which ultimately define a society.
The short film ties reality to its dissimulated shape in the world of cinema, which, amongst other things, functions in accordance with a mimetic act. As such, the sudden shifts which elaborate the sort of comic spirit that Jude seeks out in order to approach sensitive topics, are the best possible means of analyzing the way in which cinema is inspired by reality, and reality by cinema, that the fine particles of any world are not indissoluble. And while the phenomenon of spreading takes place, the spectators are left in an area of discomfort, where they laugh at times, or raise their eyebrows, and if these reactions persist after the screening, then the shorts are all the more memorable and useful. The collage produced by Jude fulfills its purpose as a research instrument, and does so in a manner that is poetic, vehement and uncensored.
 The filmmaker often denies the term of realist, not because his early works were not realist, but rather because realism overpasses the elements of fiction as long as we are discussing authenticity, and that might be the case of many of the films that precede his transition: Interview : Radu Jude – towards an impure cinema | FILM MENU (wordpress.com), published at 21.12.2014, first time accessed at 14.06.2022
 Just like a given stylistic coherence should serve the construction of cinematic material in a positive sense, it can just as easily turn into a hurdle. Radu Jude often says that there are attempts to follow a (conformist) direction which he now finds unsatisfactory, and straying away from it dislocates the important accents, arranging them in the proper form and nature. Ibidem
 Just as Sergiu Nicolaescu describes the script in filmed interviews as having had its fair share of observation. Of course, the film was rejected in terms of realism even by King Michael I himself. But it certainly has an authentic function, which I relate even to Radu Jude.
 A reference to the films of French filmmaker Jean Cocteau, understood as a contradiction between reality and plasticity, where the acting often becomes dichotomic (ex.:The Orphic Trilogy)