The Romanian film community is in deep shock this weekend at the news that one of its most loved and highly respected film critics Alex Leo Şerban has died of cancer at the age of 51.
Şerban was also a well known and popular figure on the international festival circuit, regularly attending the festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Clermont-Ferrand and Thessaloniki and sitting on FIPRESCI juries as well as curating special film programmes and conferences at home and abroad.
In addition to writing film columns for publications as diverse as the Bucharest weekly Dilema Veche, the daily newspapers Libertatea and ID and contributing to Cahiers du Cinema and Film Comment, he collaborated with Stefan Balan and Mihai Chirilov on a book in 2004 about Lars von Trier, The Films, The Women, The Ghosts, which won the Romanian Film Critics Association Prize, and also wrote Why Do We Watch Films in 2006 which received the Filmmakers Union Prize for best book on cinema.
In 2009, Anca Yvette Grădinariu wrote: “It rarely happens for a film critic to become a star – even less in Romania, where the cinema is almost ignored (there is not a single specialized publication) – however, ALŞ [as Şerban was known by colleagues] became a brand.”
“He is a person of the world, a spiritual dandy, alive, funny, who loves without discrimination both the arty and the genre type film and who seems to have a very whole existence besides – one that is exciting, glamorous, which many would kill for,” she wrote.
Last year, he was one of the contributing editors to the Transilvania Internaitonal Film Festival’s special publication on “The New Romanian Cinema”, produced in collaboration with the Romanian Cultural Institute.
On Cristian Mungiu’s Palme d’Or winner, Şerban wrote “What’s truly remarkable about 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the way the audience is held hostage to the screen through the whole thing. (…) 432 is like a human experiment – the ‘masterpiece’ doesn’t belong to Mungiu, but to Ceausescu: the filmmaker didn’t do more than pull the curtain over the transparent boxes where Romanians were aborting their lives on a daily basis.”
And in another essay on the “New Romanian New Wave”, he concluded: “Regardless of pros and cons, for or against, one thing is certain: this ‘New Wave’ of Romanian film (which isn’t cutting any slack to Romania’s self perception) is the best export seller of all arts, and the main politician (with no political party to support it) representing our country. Fortunately, the film buffs vote for it.”