The Romanians Are Coming!

February 13, 2008

Next Monday we open THE GREAT COMMUNIST BANK ROBBERY, Alexandru Solomon’s documentary that is both a bizarre recreation of a crime of which the motive is still difficult to fathom and an astonishing evocation of a lost world of Romanian Stalinism. The title has at least two different meanings—it is, at the same time, a documentary, an inquiry, and a memoir; three films rolled into one that can be easily defined by means of a single epithet—staggering. And I don’t even know what staggers more… The fact that a handful of young people robbed the National Bank of Romania in cold blood in 1959? The fact that the youngsters proved to be not your average gangsters but Jewish intellectuals thrown out of the Communist Party? The fact that after being caught they where forced to “act out” their own parts in a propaganda movie—titled THE RECONSTITUTION directed by Virgil Calotescu, a “cineaste” who would put even poor Ed Wood to shame? The fact that the only survivors of this unique case in the history of the Romanian criminology are either friends of the “guilty parties” who emigrated or Securitate tormentors who freely tortured all suspects they could lay their hands on? Or, finally, the fact that one of those butchers shamelessly talks in front of the camera about his bravado? The film is an example of essential national cinema, both in terms of subject matter and history, and, again, it can be perceived, from the outside, as a morbid curiosity. Nevertheless it provides a view into the world which has been increasingly populating American cinemas with films like THE DETAH OF MR. LAZERASCU, 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, and 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS. If you’ve seen any of these films, I can’t recommend enough that this is essential viewing.

For an interview with the director in which he discusses how he came across the story check out the BBC.

For more on the recent emergence of Romanian cinema check out the NY Times.