Lucian Pintilie, Authority-Defying Romanian Director, Dies at 84

The director Lucian Pintilie on the set of his 1996 film “Too Late,” which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Lucian Pintilie, a leading Romanian stage and film director who clashed with the Communist authorities in his home country and was forced from it for a time as a result, died on Wednesday in Bucharest. He was 84.

His friend Corina Suteu, a former culture minister of Romania, confirmed his death but did not give the cause.

Mr. Pintilie was a provocateur by the standards of Communist Romania, incurring the wrath of Nicolae Ceausescu, the country’s leader from the mid-1960s until his overthrow and execution in 1989.

Eventually Mr. Pintilie left the country, working in France, the United States and elsewhere until after the fall of Communism.

His stage productions were often innovative — for a 1988 production of “The Cherry Orchard” at Arena Stage in Washington, he had the temerity to add back a scene that Chekhov had cut — and his films are considered pivotal precursors to the acclaimed Romanian New Wave cinema of this century.

“Pintilie came to embody Romanian cinema almost by himself,” the French critic Michel Ciment wrote, “before a young generation — which he helped hatch — started drawing the attention of the world.”

Mr. Pintilie (pronounced pin-teel-YEE-ay) was born on Nov. 9, 1933, in the Bessarabia region, then in northeastern Romania and now part of Ukraine. His village was primarily German, but the population included Russians, Turks, Romanians and other nationalities.

Though that part of the world has had its share of ethnic strife, he remembered a more idyllic childhood.

“There wasn’t even a hint of racial tension,” Mr. Pintilie recalled in a 1994 interview with The New York Times. “Everybody lived without being conscious of their differences.”

Mr. Pintilie graduated from the Institute of Theater and Cinematography in Bucharest. He was a stage director first, working with the Bulandra Theater there. He tried filmmaking in the mid-1960s, and his first feature, “Sunday at 6 O’Clock,” a tragedy about two young Communist lovers working underground during World War II, drew attention, both positive and negative.

“Some are referring to it as the ‘first Romanian film’ after two decades of mediocre fare,” The New York Times wrote in 1966. But since the movie did not present the kind of heroic themes preferred by the Communist Party, which had recently chosen Ceausescu as general secretary, it was frowned upon in official circles.

“Although it received warm notices in many papers,” The Times wrote, “the party publication assailed it for having ignored the official line on the underground movement.”

Two years later came his second film, “Reenactment” (also translated as “Reconstruction”), about two young men who, after a drunken brawl, seek to avoid prison by agreeing to reconstruct their fight in front of a camera for educational purposes.

“ ‘Reenactment’ becomes the record of innocent deaths under the gaze of a representative of the state, an officer and other figures of the establishment,” Mr. Ciment wrote in an assessment of Mr. Pintilie’s career for a Museum of Modern Art retrospective in 2012.

The film was too much for Ceausescu’s censors; it was immediately banned. But when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1970, Mr. Pintilie was on his way toward cementing an international reputation.

His stage work was causing him as much trouble at home as his films were. In 1972, his version of Nikolai Gogol’s play “The Inspector General” was shut down after just a few performances.

“Apparently this 19th-century satire on Russian bureaucracy had annoyed the Russians or the bureaucrats or both,” The Times deadpanned in reporting on the controversy.

Mr. Pintilie’s response was to become an expatriate. “I was told, ‘If you want to continue working here, you have to change your conception of the world,’ ” he recalled in 1994. “I answered, ‘But I’ve just started formulating it.’ ”

He spent much of the next decade directing in France at the Théâtre National de Chaillot. He made only one film in this period, in Yugoslavia: “Ward 6,” based on a Chekhov story.

He returned to his home country to make “Carnival Scenes” (1982), a comic drama adapted from a Luca Caragiale story that Mr. Pintilie had already directed on the stage. But the film was banned and released only after the fall of Communism.

His first film after he was able to return to Romania and work freely, “The Oak” (1992), looked at life before the 1989 revolution through the story of a schoolteacher. It was widely admired.

“This film, a French-Romanian co-production, is Mr. Pintilie’s reaction to the 1989 collapse of the Communist regime in his country and his expectations for the future,” Vincent Canby wrote in The Times when it played at the New York Film Festival. “It begins as a nightmare and ends with a vague expectation of the break of day.”

“An Unforgettable Summer” (1994) was set in the Romania of the 1920s and starred Kristin Scott Thomas. “Too Late” (1996) was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Among his later films was “Niki and Flo” (2003), which looked at the revolution through the relationship between two aging men.

Laurence Kardish, a veteran curator who organized the 2012 MoMA retrospective with Ms. Suteu, said Mr. Pintilie had addressed the difficult times he lived through with a piercing, somewhat twinkling eye.

“Born into Central Europe at a time when borders and nationalities constantly shifted and having experienced banishment, exile and censorship,” Mr. Kardish said by email, “Pintilie became cinema’s Voltaire. His satires on the absurdities of dictatorship, particularly ‘Carnival Scenes’ and ‘The Oak,’ are universal, ferocious and mordantly witty.”

Ms. Suteu said Mr. Pintilie’s survivors include his companion, Marie-France Ionesco, daughter of the playwright Eugène Ionesco.

Mr. Pintilie’s puckishness was evident in an interview in which he talked about his films and, with tongue in cheek, about his need to become spellbound by the actresses he cast.

“Falling in love with your actress is for me a strict matter of professional ethics,” he said. “How can one build the portrait of a lady? Just by falling in love with her. Falling out of love, once the final scene is shot, usually takes between two and four hours.”

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