November 30, 2012

To Romania With Love

by Vadim Rizov

Everybody in Our Family

[Everybody in Our Family and Three Days Till Christmas screen in NYC as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema," beginning tonight through December 5.]

The major titles of the recent "Romanian New Cinema"—The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Police, Adjective, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the brief exchanges in the largely dialogue-less three hours of Aurora—have accustomed viewers to conversational interactions frequently taking the sudden form of often un-incited rudeness. The opening of Radu Jude's Everybody in Our Family seemingly represents similar terrain: sprawled in a half unmade bed, a man stifles his alarm. Finally sitting up and checking his phone, he mutters "Fuck you" to a voice mail. The question of who the "fucking cunt" being cursed is, at this stage, less notable than the man's hostility, already at full strength moments after waking.

Everybody in Our Family

Because something like a whole reel is devoted to largely cute father-daughter interactions, the film's midway reversal gets alarmed attention very quickly. Seemingly reasonable Marius is revealed as far from an audience identification point. His violent behavior in the claustrophobic apartment results in an admittedly tense second half, placing a child in continuous jeopardy without using the threat as a cheap tool for emotional investment.

Greater detail is undesirable, since Family doesn't have American distribution yet. Expertly acted without any overscaled moments puncturing the literally pent-up tension, Everybody in Our Family queasily treads the border of being unrewardingly unpleasant. The scenario pushes Marius steadily towards total lunacy, producing a vein of extremely dark humor veering towards live-action cartoon. Compelling though it is, a larger purpose besides moment-to-moment palpitation-inducement is notably missing.

Three Days Till Christmas

Radu Gabrea's Three Days Till Christmas reconsiders the 1989 last days of Romania's longtime leader Nicolae Ceausescu (Constantin Cojocaru) and inseparable wife Elena (Victoria Cocias). Ceausescu's long dictatorship—beginning with idealistic, anti-totalitarian rhetoric, ending in massive national impoverishment, infant malnutrition and the secret police excesses of the Securitate—was terminated in the three days leading up to Christmas 1989. Christmas' main strand follows Nicolae and Elena as they attempt to flee the country, then hole up with military protectors. As people rage outside and alleged "terrorists" fire on protesters, history's inevitability makes no impression on Nicolae, who bristles over being betrayed by traitors and foreigners.

Footage from state TV—communications from hastily assembled protester factions and their pre-broadcast squabbling about who speaks first—overlaps heavily with Andrei Ujica and Harun Farocki's 1992 compilation documentary Videograms of the Revolution. Composed solely of muddy, often informationally unclear TV footage from the period, it's must-see viewing for those interested in the period. Christmas' use of the same shots—while no less interesting a second time around—points to the fact that this particular sociopolitical moment has been extensively explored. These clips function as scene-setters for a film largely split between last-days reenactment and talking heads interviews with the real participants. Conceptually rich, the film unfortunately offers no tension between the recreations and the interview "truths"; the former flatly illuminate the latter.

Three Days Till Christmas

The Variety review reports Romanian viewers were peeved by climactic scenes of the terrified Ceausescus holding each other in bed, an eminently understandable response of distastes. The goal is the perpetually surprising news that historical monsters are people too, a point in no way germane to understanding Nicolae and Elena's traumatic hold on the Romanian political psyche. (The death count from their overthrow alone has been estimated between 1,104 and 1,247, the vast majority of them civilians.) Viewers who only learn about them here might conclude Nicolae and Elena—ranting in harsh, impeccably recreated fits—were shot to get them to just shut up.



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Posted by ahillis at November 30, 2012 8:41 AM