Many thanks to Kit Gillet for incorporating some comments of mine in his New York Times article on Collective.
And here is some more of the stuff that I said in answer to Kit Gillet’s question about the reasons why Collective got closer to the Oscars than any other major Romanian film of recent years:
It may have something to do with the fact that, while the other major Romanian films of the last 15 years tended to operate rather far from any Hollywood templates, Collective is somewhat closer: it is a heroic story of a few good people against the system. The first half is a story of journalists uncovering a monstruous web of corruption: it is well told, it is rousing, it really happened – it is all the more remarkable for having been filmed as it was happening. It belongs with those films – some of which have won Oscars – which make the journalists who see them feel good about their profession. The second half is about a well-meaning Health Minister who tries to change a few things. Like the hard-boiled journalist in the first half, this politician is of course a real person, but on screen he also becomes a recognizable cinematic type – the crusading reformer, fresh-faced, inexperienced, etc. I can easily imagine that, for a non-Romanian audience, there’s something mythical to these characters and this conflict; so the audience gets the thrills of direct cinema (applied to a story of systemic corruption investigated, exposed and resisted) and it also gets these archetypal heroes carrying the story – a very powerful aesthetic combination. Of course, for Romanian audiences it’s different: the people and the events on screen are hopelessly enmeshed in their local context. (I’m not saying that Romanian viewers necessarily see the film more lucidly: it is probably a good thing that the film is harder to swallow in Romania as a morally clear-cut tale of a-few-good-guys-fighting-to-change-the-rotten-system, but, on the other hand, Romanian viewers tend to bring to it very strong political biases.) For example, the film ends with the parliamentary elections of 2016, presented as a clear-cut confrontation between the good guys and the forces of corruption – the latter identified with the political party which won that year, the Social Democrats. This has struck part of the film’s Romanian audience as an oversimplification of the issues that were at stake in those elections, and also of the reasons why those elections turned out the was they did. Anyway, now it’s five years later, power has changed hands again – that youthful Health Minister who is one of the film’s heroes (Vlad Voiculescu) has become Health Minister again and he’s acting in the very different context of the pandemic. I personally see Alexander Nanau’s film as the expression of a very specific 2016 Romanian zeitgeist: a big wave of political romanticism that was spreading at the time among big-city middle-class voters in their thirties and forties – a romantic belief in a new breed of politician, young and unsullied, who could clean up Romanian politics and make things OK. It is impossible for me to watch the film without acknowleding that a lot of that romanticism has turned sour since then. But this probably has very little to do with the spirit in which it will be watched by Oscar voters. The film’s oversimplifications and hero worshsip could actually boost its Oscar chances instead of hindering them.