Witty and perceptive Romanian film critic
Acest articol a fost scris de Paul BAILEY şi a fost publicat în The Guardian, 6 iunie 2011
Alex Leo Serban, who has died of lymphatic cancer aged 51, was best known as a witty and perceptive film critic in Romania. He was also a skilled translator, photographer and visual artist and an admired teacher. Leo – as his friends called him – had a gift for languages. He spoke impeccable English and French, and could communicate easily in Italian, Spanish and German. He translated Paul Bowles's novels The Sheltering Sky and Up Above the World into Romanian. His other translations included Martin Sherman's play Bent, as well as poems, stories and essays by WH Auden, Samuel Beckett, Don DeLillo, Vladimir Nabokov and Susan Sontag.
But it was his film criticism that marked him out as a singular voice. His articles appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma, in France, and Carte di Cinema, in Italy, and were syndicated in American magazines. He wrote a weekly column in the Romanian arts magazine Dilema Veche, reporting from the world's most prestigious film festivals. Leo's enthusiasm for cinema inspired brilliant young directors such as Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu) and Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), who both regard him as a mentor. He was proud to have played a part in the continuing renaissance in the Romanian film industry.
Leo was a brave and clever man who survived a culture that broke the hearts and minds of many who were born in Romania in the 1940s and 50s. He grew up in Bucharest under Nicolae Ceausescu's rule and, was an unlikely dandy in the communist society where the word "decadent" was a term of abuse. After the Romanian revolution in December 1989, he let it be known, without either ostentation or apology, that he was gay. This took extraordinary courage.
Leo taught at the Film and Theatre Academy in Bucharest and lectured at Lincoln Centre in New York, Pittsburgh University and at the Humboldt University in Berlin. After his 50th birthday, he decided to give up film criticism and travelled to Argentina and Portugal, where he contemplated living in Lisbon. Richard Peña, the director of the Film Society at Lincoln Centre, said he was "always as much a joy to be with as he was incredibly perceptive about cinema".
He certainly brightened my life whenever he came to London. He had in abundance a lovely talent for self-mockery. I cherish one story he told me. He was in Paris some years ago and was walking in the spring sunshine when he noticed that his great hero, the philosopher EM Cioran, was on the other side of the road. Leo rushed over and introduced himself to Cioran in what he considered perfect French. The old man looked at him for a second and replied in Romanian. Leo was surprised and slightly dismayed. He later discovered that Cioran, one of the indisputable stylists in French, was often reluctant to speak the language he had mastered for fear of making even the slightest grammatical error.
Leo is survived by his mother, Aurelia.