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During the summary trial that he and his wife were submitted to, Nicolae Ceausescu is reviewing his long reign in power: 1965-1989. From a formal point of view, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu proves that it is possible to only use existing images to yield films focused on recent history, yet with an epic vein similar to that of the historical fiction cinema. This is an eminently syntactic endeavor, where montage plays a twofold part: mise-en-scene, as it builds scenes that do not exist as such in the rushes, and classical editing, connecting scenes together.Written by
Cannes Film Festival
Having been born at the end of the 80s, my recollection of communist Romania is negligible. So for me, this wealth of archival footage represents less an excursion into dreary eyed nostalgia, but rather a fascinating, vicarious experience. It is unfathomable to think that this is a part of our human heritage, and the film leaves the impression of being a document of society, culture and politics that's out of this world.
This other-worldliness is achieved through the exclusive use of archival footage, to the detriment of any present-day commentary. The biographical tale of Ceausescu leads us through several decades of communist Romania, and is bound by the trial and execution of the former dictator. Surprisingly, although my knowledge of recent Romanian history is fairly limited, there was little actual information in the the events and moments portrayed which I was unfamiliar with. I'm not sure that's a good thing, for such a long runtime - all it says, to me, is that you should probably not watch this documentary if your aim is solely to gain a straightforward understanding of history.
What it does do very well, is synthesize the essence of what the public frame of mind was at the time. It ebbs and flows beautifully, from the fascination of the Western world with Ceausescu after his stance on the invasion of Prague, to his ultimate isolation within the communist block. In this, as well as in much of the propagandistic materials made for public consumption, there is a strong sense of falsehood meshed together with a (willing) naivety of the everyday folk. The film is at its best when it manages to effectively contain these paradoxes of truth, the double-standards of pre-89 communist dogma, and the absurdity of turning a mildly charismatic, semi-literate individual into an egomaniac with absolute power.
In between all these moments, you've got Ceausescu delving into sheer silliness - with the cherry on top being his speech on how Romania will only return to capitalism when "pigs fly", then joking on the advances of genetics only to realize this is not quite the right thing to say and reinforcing the initial statement with raised pitch and ample gesticulation. There are many scenes like this, of various sizes, that shape Ceausescu as a character and the warped world-view provided by public television. At three hours, one could argue the documentary is overlong, as certain elements become repetitive. One can also argue that in their repetitiveness, these elements bear different meanings, according to the wider context of their occurrence, sort of a seasonal aspect of the biographical story.
Whichever way you look at it, there is so much to see and experience in Andrei Ujica's film, that you are guaranteed to not be left indifferent by it.
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