The films are relevant to understand both the first period of communism (1947-1996) from Romania’s past and the anocracy period (1996-2019) before entering the second communism period (2020-present).
1. Farewell, Comrades!
On November 14th, 2011, I participated in the screening of the first episode of the historical TV documentary from the miniseries “Farewell, Comrades!”. The discussions were interesting, as it was an event organized by Romanian television, with the participation of Alexandru Solomon, Romania’s most significant documentary filmmaker alive. At the event, Christian Beetz, one of the German film producers, answered some of the questions about the making of, both from Mr. Solomon and the public.
Directed by a leading European filmmaker with solid international experience, the series “FAREWELL, COMRADES!” will be of global historical significance. A dense network of eight leading European coproducers makes” FAREWELL, COMRADES!” a truly European project: Agitprop (Bulgaria), Bestafilm (Poland), Havas Films (Hungary), Hifilm (Romania), Hypermarket Film (Czech Republic), Lystopad/ Mark Edwards (Ukraine), Trigon Production (Slovakia)
I was totally impressed. I am a passionate documentaries fan, and I can solemnly say I have never, in my life, seen such a well-organized, international, and facts-providing initiative that can genuinely be called historical. The challenge was to surprise the impact of communism on the countries from Central Europe (Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia) and Western Europe (Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany) which were behind the Iron Curtain, starting the 1975 moment, until the fall of the USSR, from the points of view of the survivors, which have sent postcards. These postcards, now investigated as historical documents, provide important insights which have not come out until 2011. The documentary offers a unique perspective on the social dimension: how did the day-to-day existence of those who lived in those times actually look? Considering it documents events from 30-40 years ago, this builds upon what I already stated about the film Red Gloves. (see below).
The effort is not just one of documentation for video purposes but also for a multimedia platform, open to the whole world as a library. The media platform allowed thematic search, chronological search, and interactivity. This could have been the future of documentaries in the XXIth Century.
Lena Thiele, Creative Director and cross-media producer has been developing and producing new formats for documentary film, online, mobile, and games. She is also the author of MYRIAD. Where we connect.
The platform also shows footage of the video archives studied but not selected for the film – which you may watch online and comment about.
The narrative structure also has a creative approach, as it is a dialogue between a young woman (Tatjana Neksrov) in her 20s, which is researching the horrors of communism, and her father (Alexandr Neksrov, the film director), which tries to explain to her how the things were. I haven’t ever seen such an inciteful manner of presenting a documentary subject.
Although I have only seen the first part of the six-part series, it seemed to me to bring an objective perspective. In addition, I found the documentary rich in well-documented information, concise, well-done technically, and fast-paced.
The six-part documentary has been contracted for airing by these broadcasters from all over Europe: ARTE France, BNT (Bulgaria), Ceska TV (Czech Republic), ICTV (Ukraine), Magyar TV (Hungary), Slovak TV (Slovakia), TSR (Switzerland), TVP (Poland), TVR (Romania), YLE (Finland), ZDF ARTE (Germany)
Zelist.ro, the monitor of Romanian web 2.0, has considered the trailer for this documentary one of the most viral videos in the last period. This film received Prix Europa 2011 at the European Broadcasting Festival.
2. Manusi Rosii / Red Gloves (2010) by Radu Gabrea
Together with Cel mai iubit dintre pămînteni / The Most Beloved from the Earth by Şerban Marinescu and Binecuvântată fii închisoare/ Bless You Prison by Nicolae Mărgineanu, this is the best non-documentary feature I have ever seen about the Communist jails. Inspired by an actual fact, it dramatizes the real story of a young student in Cluj Napoca in the late 50s and early 60s.
The historical setting is this: in 1956, the Hungarians were encouraged by the CIA to start a Revolution against the Russians. However, the Americans backed down on their intentions, and the Russians entered Budapest with the tanks. The movement’s leaders were jailed or killed, and a period of oppression started against all the Magyars and the Szekelys, including those living in Transylvania, a region of Romania with a special status. The Communist regime in Romania has been the toughest of all the Socialist countries in Central Europe during the Cold War. As a Romanian, when I saw Das Leben Der Anderen, I really didn’t understand why those people were complaining, compared to what happened in Romania during the Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceauşescu regimes.
Red Gloves is the adaptation of the journal written by the main character, who was condemned and tortured for a crime he never committed, forced through torture to condemn people to jail. The film presents the heart of the issue from a human perspective and helps us understand the system, the oppression, and the conditions then. The music is absolutely superb.
Radu Gabrea is one of Romania’s most talented yet less-known film directors, especially since he preferred doing films in Germany during communism. Unfortunately, you will not find much information about those on the Internet Movie Database.
Two months ago, I participated in the official launch of the picture in Cluj-Napoca, where the film director, the author of the book, and the leading actor participated. The hall was hot. One of the most impressive things was that one of the participants at the launch confessed it is the most realistic depiction of the jail conditions he also has experimented with as a political prisoner.
If you want to read further on Romanian communism, there are a few non-Romanian recommendations I would have:
Les espions russes de Staline à Poutine : Les dossiers secrets by Patrick Pesnot & Monsieur X, chapter about Romanian Revolution
Revolution 1989: Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebastyen, the chapter about the Romanian Revolution – I actually recommended this book to the filmmaker as well and he read it, as he proves in another film that he made afterwards.
My rating: 8 / 10 (Masterpiece)
3. The documentary Videogramme einer Revolution,
directed by Harun Farocki, Andrei Ujica.
My rating: 8 / 10 (Masterpiece)
4. Priveste înainte cu mânie / Look Forward in Anger (1993)
I have always considered that sharing with foreigners documentaries about Romanian realities is an act that helps me understand better my own culture by watching their reactions to the Romanian content.
This is not a documentary. It is a fictional story inspired by reality. Considering this Romanian picture was done under the communism of Ion Iliescu, I would say that everything the trailer says was accurate, and the perspective it portrays was still mostly proper up until the start of the second communist period (from 2020). The prophetic nature of the film lies in its first 5 minutes. This is one of the films that any foreigner should see to understand what happened to Romania after the 1989 Revolution.
The structure is compelling, starting from the drama in the small universe of a family, extending it to the whole city and then to the entire nation. Here we have all the typical characters, but not in a stereotypical manner. They make sense, and they do create rage.
The magistral ending tells the story of those who cannot tell their story, the drama of survival which is only too common for those who are already half-dead inside.
I remember watching with a friend of mine from Belgium Alexandru Solomon’s Kapitalism, and she was surprised to find out some things which seemed very natural to me.
My rating: 8 / 10 (Masterpiece)
5. Constantin and Elena (2008)
On the 4th of September 2009, I participated in the late screening of the documentary “Constantin and Elena“, directed by the UNATC editing section graduate Andrei Dăscălescu. I found it very interesting as he was one of the early adopters of film event promotion via Facebook. As you can see in the video I shot, there were quite a few people around there, and I had to get in line, in the end, to have a small talk with the director and congratulate him.
Trailer of the documentary “Constantin and Elena”
My rating: 8 / 10 (Masterpiece)
What I found remarkable about the movie is how it emphasizes the two characters’ naturalness and the importance of being and staying together. Actually, it’s about a unitary character – the couple, which, beyond the content, shares the values that stand beyond a long-lasting relationship.
I highly appreciate his film for the idea put out there, which is very closely connected to another excellent documentary, The Demographic Winter.
I also invite you to see this documentary and correlate it with what I found out here:
The New Cinema for the Romanian Directors opened at the National Peasant’s Museum is doing a great job in bringing people to art movies. I’ve been there at many films, and I’ve been impressed by the significant presence of the audience.
Copyright text © Marcus Victor Grant 2009-present. Previously published on the Debug Your Mind blog. Updated after publishing in 2023. Copyright text © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved.
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