Thursday, January 5, 2012

Movie Review: The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu ***
Director: Andrei Ujica.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu is not your typical documentary. It is three hours long, features no voiceover narration, and is made up entirely of clips of the “official” Romanian archives on their former leader, who ruled the Communist country for more than 20 years. The title is key, because this movie doesn’t present the “true” portrait of Ceausescu or of Romania at that time, but the portrait that Ceausescu wanted the world to believe. But if you watch the movie closely, reality begins to seep in – especially when you watch the background.

The movie opens and closes with a defiant Ceausescu right before his trial, after which both he and his wife will be executed, telling reporters that he has done nothing wrong. He has no idea about any massacres, no idea why the people have turned against him. He is a patriot.

The rest of the movie is made up of speeches by Ceausescu where he talks about how great Romania is, how great he is, how great socialism is. The movie is roughly divided into three parts – documenting his ascension during the late 1960s, when he was on top in the 1970s, and the long spiral downwards in the 1980s. There are more then speeches – there are photo ops when he goes out into the streets to see the real people, although the events are clearly highly staged. Most eye catching are the elaborate State visits – especially when he goes to China and Korea, and the welcoming committee is so over the top, you realize that the whole “industry” of welcoming foreign leaders must employ thousands of people – none of them look too happy though.

Directed by Andrei Ujica, the film is fascinating because although everything in it was “sanctioned” by Ceausescu – even those scenes where he is defiant at the beginning and the end, which is the public face he chose – this is not a flattering picture of the man. You can tell so much of the film is staged – manipulated for his own purposes. Ujica shows so much of it, and in the background you see glimpses of what everything is really like. In essence, he is using Ceausescu’s propaganda against him.

Some have criticized the film for two reasons – one that the film does not show, or even mentioned, Ceausescu’s execution and the other being that the film doesn’t show what life was like for regular Romanians. But the title explains that – this is Ceausescu as he wants to be seen, not as he actually was. That’s why you need to pay attention to the background.

I have a feeling that the film will be more appreciated by historians, film scholars and, of course, Romanians, then by most others. It is a very long film, and it feels like a long film. If you don’t know a lot about Ceausescu, you may easily become lost at times (I was). But it is a fascinating film – really one of a kind. You most likely already know if this film sounds interesting to you – and if it does, I suggest you give it a chance.

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