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It's the 22nd of December. Sixteen years have passed since the revolution, and in a small town Christmas is about to come. Piscoci, an old retired man is preparing for another Christmas alone. Manescu, the history teacher, tries to keep up with his debts. Jderescu, the owner of a local television post, seems not to be so interested in the upcoming holidays. For him, the time to face history has come. Along with Manescu and Piscoci, he is trying to answer for himself a question which for 16 years has not had an answer: "Was it or wasn't it a revolution in their town?" Written by
A fost sau n-a fost has been hailed by many critics because it is hard to fit into a specific genre. In the style of the early movies of Jarmusch (and highly indebted to Bella Tarr for cinematography) the movie mixes comedy and drama in a very peculiar way leaving the viewer puzzled if what is displayed should be taken seriously or not. The movie's ambiguity is already present in the title, which in Romanian means something like "Was it or was it not" referring to the Revolution of December '89. Many Eastern Europeans sense a great difficulty in coming to terms with their past, some completely reject it but others have so many memories linking them to that past it is impossible for them to disengage with it. The Romanian Revolution, unlike all the others was very bloody. Many innocent people have died and the facts about the events are far from being clear to date. This is why Romanian cinema has been quite obsessed with those events. This movie brings us to a town in deeper Romania and tries to give us an idea of its sense of the large scale event that changed the country. It appears that in this small town there were only four revolutionaries and three representatives of the repression forces and that the whole thing lasted a few minutes (but even this is debatable).
The point of the movie is that everybody has his/her own way of seeing things and living through life. Even great events such as the French Revolution didn't leave marks on every French inhabitant. I'm sure there were people in the world sixty years ago that had no idea there was a world war under way. If Mr. Piscoc feels funny with his "little things", quarrel with the wife, shaving, going to buy flowers etc that's only at a superficial level. His story is similar to that of many Romainans on that day. Is Manescu right in arguing he is a revolutionary? Of course, but so is Bejan in denying it and the bystanders in being ignorant and the people who weren't even there in having an opinion.
I enjoyed the reference to the hand-held camera (everybody uses it today) in a movie that is very aware it is only a movie. Porumboiu made interesting every second of this film, even the overlong talk-show has enough moments to keep you glued to the screen. The shots of the small town in winter are superb (but you can find better stuff in Tarr and Kieslowky).
Overall, though the movie pays its due to other movie makers but it manages to ask some very important questions in a very entertaining manner. It's refreshing to see that Ceausescu and the Revlution can be approached this way, I was getting bored with the already classical Romanian drama built around the Revolution
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