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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
December 22, 1989. What exactly happened that day in Bucharest? We know Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu left the country bringing about the end of Communism, but, was there ever really a revolt?
This might be a touchy subject for a movie to some Romanians. I mean, after all, the movie is asking questions and challenging the country's history. And there are people who are still alive who can tell us what happened. But, Corneliu Porumboiu's feature lenght directorial debut shouldn't cause any controversy.
"12:08 East of Bucharest" is many things. First of all it is one of the best Romanian movies I have ever seen. It is also one of the best films I've seen in 2006. It is one of the funniest movies I've seen this year and was the best movie I saw at the Chicago International Film Festival this year. But the one thing it is not is a controversial film.
What makes a film just as this so good is the way it weaves a serious subject with humor. Who would have thought a subject about the Romanian revolution could have been so funny? Romanians, and really most of us Eastern Europeans (I'm Hungarian) have a very sarcastic sense of humor. And that humor is shown in spades in this film. In fact the audience I saw this film with (and it was a packed house) were also in fits of laughter. I started laughing at myself for laughing. I was even trying to hold it in so I wouldn't disturb the people sitting next to me.
The film mostly follows three men, Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban) the host of a TV show that is going to discuss the 16th anniversary of that fateful day and his two guest, both of whom claim to have been there, Mr. Manescu (Ion Sapdaru) and Mr. Piscoci (Mircea Andeescu).
The first half of the movie introduces these characters to us as each gets ready for the show. The second half of the movie is the TV show itself.
I've complained lately that one of the reason Romanian films don't get distributed in America is because Romanians are going away from what they know. The country has tried so hard to maintain the image it is not behind with the times and wants to impress Western society. This is a big mistake. Don't care what Western audiences will think. Just make films about your country and deal with subjects that are meaningful to you (by "you" I mean Romanian directors). Earlier this year we saw "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu". There was a film that dealt with a "Romanian" problem and people all over the world not only enjoyed it, but, were able to relate to it. This, I believe, would happen more often if Romanian directors followed their hearts instead of some demographic.
"12:08 East of Bucharest" is dealing with a major part of Romanian history and the outcome is a brilliant film that all audience members should be able to relate to. The humor also helps the film by keeping the audience engaged.
I hope we see more films like this. And I also hope director Corneliu Porumboiu keeps making films and hopefully they will be shown in America.
p.s. I also wanted to quickly point out a similarity I found between this film and Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Spider's Stratagem". Both films question a time in history. Are there such things as heroes? Does fact ever get mixed with fiction? How can we separate the two? When is a lie more important than the truth, if ever? These are important things to think about.
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