Sunday, January 27, 2008

12:08 East of Bucharest: Grade A

12:08 East of Bucharest (2006)
Mircea Andreescu, Teodor Corban, Ion Sapdaru. Writer-Director Corneliu Porumboiu. Romanian (subtitled).

It seems clear that this film was made for domestic consumption in Romania. It’s hard to imagine it would appeal to an American audience, yet inexplicably, I enjoyed it tremendously. In a contemporary provincial town, a dreary television talk show interviews two locals, asking them where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day in 1989 when communism fell in Romania and dictator Ceausescu fled. The two men interviewed say they were out in the town square protesting the government and calling for its overthrow. But the interviewer presses them for details: were they protesting before 12:08 pm when the dictator fled, or were they celebrating after that time, when it was safe? In other words, were they really part of the revolution or just observers of it? The style of the questions and answers start to take the shape of an interrogation by the secret police, focusing obsessively on tiny details. The interviewees get defensive, angry, depressed, and defeated. In the background is a lifeless flat mural of the empty, barren town square in front of a concrete hulk of a government building. There are comments about whether the clock in the tower ever was accurate, a fine metaphor for life under communism. Callers-in to the show are hostile, dismissive, or contradicting of the interviewees. One claims life was better before the revolution. One is now a rich factory owner, but formerly was with the secret police, as the interviewees well know. He intimidates the interviewer about “libelous claims.” We start to understand the larger question of whether there really was a revolution at all for the ordinary people. What is different now? They still struggle to pay their debts and put bread on the table. It is a rich metaphorical film, reminiscent of a story by George Orwell, and one senses that it still touches raw nerves in Romania today. It also gives a rare look into provincial life there. I give the movie an ‘A’ because I enjoyed it so much, but it is so subtle that I wouldn’t recommend it to the average American movie watcher.

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