14 Best Movies to Watch From Romania

Staff & contributors

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Guka Han, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Kim Dong-seok, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

How far would you go to help a friend? The answer to this question might turn out quite differently after you have lived through the 2-hour squalor of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Set in the bleak late-1980s reality of Communist Romania, under the ironclad rule of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasilu play Otilia and Gabriela, two small-town students. Otilia volunteers to help Gabriela go through with an illegal abortion, which takes place in a shoddy hotel room with the help of a man named Bebe (played by Vlad Ivanov). When things don't go as planned, they find their situations quickly going from very bad to outright horrible. Powerful performances, a realistic script, and director Cristian Mungiu's technical finesse create an experience that will force you to relive the desperation the two women must endure. Little wonder that it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adi Carauleanu, Adina Cristescu, Alexandru Potocean, Anamaria Marinca, Cerasela Iosifescu, Constantin Bojog, Doru Ana, Eugenia Bosânceanu, Geo Dobre, Ion Sapdaru, Laura Vasiliu, Liliana Mocanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Mădălina Ghițescu, Mărioara Sterian, Tania Popa, Teodor Corban, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Rating: Not Rated

Mr. Lazarescu is a widower living with his cats in a small Bucharest apartment. One night when he begins to feel sick and calls for help, he sets in motion a kafkaesque parade of nurses, doctors, and hospitals as he is ferried through a bureaucratic maze unable to get treatment for his rapidly deteriorating condition. Cristi Puiu’s searing indictment of a failed healthcare system mixes kitchen-sink realism with tinges of gallows humor for a remarkable one-of-a-kind experience.

Beneath its grim demeanor is a clear-eyed portrait of the heart-rending weariness of paramedics and hospital staff that speaks spectacularly to our current mid-pandemic moment of exhausted doctors and overflowing facilities. This focus on the toll of the system on paramedics, in particular, makes this a fantastic pairing with Martin Scorcese’s’ underrated Bringing Out the Dead.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adrian Titieni, Alexandru Potocean, Alina Berzunteanu, Anca Puiu, Bogdan Dumitrache, Cerasela Iosifescu, Clara Vodă, Cristi Puiu, Dan Chiriac, Dana Dogaru, Dorian Boguta, Doru Ana, Dragos Bucur, Florin Zamfirescu, Gabriel Spahiu, Ioan Fiscuteanu, Ion Fiscuteanu, Laura Creț, Luminita Gheorghiu, Mimi Brănescu, Mimi Branescu, Monica Bârlădeanu, Monica Barladeanu, Rodica Lazăr, Șerban Pavlu, Simona Popescu

Director: Cristi Puiu

Rating: R

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Camelia Roiu, Cătălin Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Narcis Hogea, Razvan Lutac, Tedy Ursuleanu, Vlad Voiculescu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dražen Pavlović, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can't help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn't afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari, Lizzie Brocheré, Maïra Schmitt, Nathalie Boutefeu, Thierry Hancisse

Director: Anca Damian

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andrei Mateiu, Bryan Jardine, Cezara Dafinescu, Cosmin Pădureanu, Dana Marineci, Daniel Filipescu, Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Hartmut Stanke, Ingrid Bisu, Ingrid Burkhard, Irene Rindje, John Keogh, Julischka Eichel, Jürg Löw, Klara Höfels, Luana Stoica, Lucy Russell, Manu Sabo, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Miriam Rizea, Nicolas Wackerbarth, Niels Bormann, Ozana Oancea, Peter Simonischek, Radu Bânzaru, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Sava Lolov, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Ursula Renneke, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Victoria Malektorovych, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Maren Ade

Rating: R

This is a star-packed movie about two brother assassins played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. You might have read the book of the same name, and it is always hard to make a great film out of a great book but the brilliant director of A Prophet Jacques Audiard has done it (again). He is aided by a superb darkly comic script and fantastic acting from the entire cast. Audiard is French, but his take on the American Western is filled with epic violence but also witty dialogue, brotherly love, and male camaraderie.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Western

Actor: Aidan O'Hare, Aldo Maland, Allison Tolman, Andrew Litvack, Carol Kane, Creed Bratton, David Gasman, Diego Llano, Duncan Lacroix, Eric Colvin, Frédéric Siuen, Hugo Dillon, Ian Reddington, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jean-Marc Bellu, Joaquin Phoenix, Jochen Hägele, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, John C. Reilly, Kelda Holmes, Lenuta Bala, Lexie Benbow-Hart, Nick Cornwall, Patrice Cossonneau, Philip Rosch, Raymond Waring, Rebecca Root, Richard Brake, Riz Ahmed, Rutger Hauer, Sean Duggan, Theo Exarchopoulos, Trevor Allan Davies

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rating: R

Graduation is a Romanian movie from the director of the Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (also number 15 in the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.) Romeo is a 49-year-old doctor in the city of Cluj-Napoca. He is immensely proud and dedicated to his daughter, Eliza, who gets awarded a scholarship to go to Cambridge provided that she does well in her last high-school exam. The day before this exam, Elisa is sexually assaulted outside her school, and her wrist is broken. The event haunts the family and jeopardizes Elisa’s chances of succeeding in her exam. Romeo, still determined to ensure his daughter’s success, vows to do anything to not let the assault ruin his daughter’s future. Graduation is about this father and daughter duo as they go against a corrupt but quickly changing Romanian system.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adrian Titieni, Adrian Văncică, Claudia Susanu, Claudiu Dumitru, Constantin Cojocaru, Emanuel Pârvu, Gelu Colceag, Gheorghe Ifrim, Ioachim Ciobanu, Kim Ciobanu, Lia Bugnar, Liliana Mocanu, Malina Manovici, Maria Dragus, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Petre Ciubotaru, Rares Andrici, Robert Emanuel, Tudor Smoleanu, Valeriu Andriuță, Vlad Ivanov

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Rating: R

With a title like this, it was expected that Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World would be critical of today’s current circumstances, but the film takes a more startling approach. Radu Jude’s longest narrative feature is a day in the life of a disgruntled, underpaid production assistant, and as she drives between interviewees injured from work accidents, the film alternates between the black-and-white, terribly mundane reality, her Tiktok-filtered satirical rants as Bobiță, and an old colored film of a Romania decades past. It's a cynical depiction of how vulgar it is to be alive today, but it’s also more honest as Jude refuses to cling to the past.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adina Cristescu, Adrian Nicolae, Andi Vasluianu, Dorina Lazăr, Ilinca Manolache, Ioana Iacob, Katia Pascariu, László Miske, Nicodim Ungureanu, Nina Hoss, Ovidiu Pîrșan, Rodica Negrea, Șerban Pavlu, Uwe Boll

Director: Radu Jude

The Romanian New Wave’s predilection for bleakness gets a tongue-in-cheek dig in this buddy comedy from the same country: “Romanians are bad at making movies,” Pompiliu (Alexandru Papadopol) complains. “They only show doom and gloom.” Indeed, the premise here could easily make for a miserable movie: three hapless working-class pals win a multimillion lottery jackpot but lose their ticket — and, with it, the chance for Dinel (Pedro Pascal-lookalike Dorian Boguță) to pay off the mafia don that’s holding his wife hostage in Italy.

But Two Lottery Tickets takes a decidedly droll view of their predicament. Part of that approach is achieved via the trio’s characterizations: they’re all goofy in different ways, from the ridiculous conspiracy theory-spouting Pompiliu and the gullible Dinel to sleazy chancer Sile (Dragoș Bucur). The rest of the film’s breezy comic tone comes thanks to their amusingly convoluted journey to retrieve the ticket, which they believe is in a bag that was stolen when Dinel was mugged by two thugs. These many segues implicate a cross-section of Romanian society into the film, making it a wry social commentary in places. Mostly, though, Two Lottery Tickets has modest ambitions — to be, simply, an enjoyable comedy — a goal it surpasses thanks to its absurdist humor and pitch-perfect performances.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

Actor: Alexandru Papadopol, Andi Vasluianu, Codin Maticiuc, Dorian Boguta, Dragos Bucur, Elias Ferkin, Elisa Calin, Mircea Banu, Șerban Pavlu

Director: Paul Negoescu

In modern day Europe, demonic possession seems to be a thing of the past, something most likely to be attributed to mental illness, and something that can be dealt with through modern medicine, not exorcism. Still, exorcisms are conducted in certain areas in the continent, and some instances don’t go the way they should. Inspired on the real life Tanacu exorcism, Beyond the Hills doesn’t depict the event through a horror or melodramatic lens– instead the film is stoic, naturalistic, with long single takes that linger uncomfortably and repetitively. As Alina pleads to Voichița to help her, to choose her and their bond, Voichița grapples with wanting the modern yet isolating freedom she knows Alina has found elsewhere, while still wanting the refuge religious tradition has granted her, but also has made her dependent on. It does take a while to reach its conclusion, but Beyond the Hills is a deeply unsettling and striking movie to watch.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Acuta, Alina Berzunteanu, Călin Chirilă, Cătălina Harabagiu, Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Cristina Mihailescu, Dana Tapalagă, Dionisie Vitcu, Doru Ana, Gheorghe Ifrim, Gina Tandura, Ion Sapdaru, Katia Pascariu, Liliana Mocanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Nora Covali, Tania Popa, Teodor Corban, Valeriu Andriuță

Director: Cristian Mungiu

A crazy, high-speed movie about double-dealing crooks and thieves living along the Danube River in Serbia. Such a description probably makes this movie sound dark and menacing, trust me it is anything but. It is filled to the brim with delightful music, slapstick humor, bizarre contraptions, shotgun weddings -- with a sweet romantic caper at its center. If winter weather is getting you down, consider watching this film as a fun & sunny antidote.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Romance

Actor: Bajram Severdžan, Bajram Severdzan, Branka Katić, Branka Katic, Florijan Ajdini, Jasar Destani, Jashar Destani, Ljubica Adžović, Ljubica Adzovic, Miki Manojlović, Predrag Laković, Sabri Sulejmani, Salija Ibraimova, Srdjan 'Zika' Todorovic, Srdjan Todorovic, Srđan 'Žika' Todorović, Srđan Todorović, Zabit Memedov

Director: Emir Kusturica

Rating: R