The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010) Poster

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a daring way to tell a story
davidkaori23 April 2011
"The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" is an audacious, and to my eye very successful, way to tell a story. I should say to show a story, because nothing is told. No context or viewpoint is provided, other than the camera's. The filmmakers have drawn on a rich video archive concerning Ceausescu and Rumania from 1965 to 1989. No opinions are explicitly offered, and no history or explanation provided, beyond what the camera sees. And the camera sees a lot. As with the footage in Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia," the images are quite arresting, and one really doesn't want to move one's eye away from what the camera is seeing. I would offer three pieces of advice about the film. First, go and be prepared to supply your own context. I'm a historian and fairly wonky in these matters, but even so, it took me a good few minutes to get accustomed to the idea that the film's narrative was going to be simply what the camera was showing. I suspect this will catch many viewers by surprise, and it's better to know it in advance. Second: go with an open mind. Ceausescu is a controversial character. It pays to put your viewpoints aside --not forget them, just suspend them-- while you are seeing the film. And finally, by all means go. This is audacious storytelling and great cinema. The effort you expend on this journey will certainly be rewarded.
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Irony is hidden in the title
metcavus20 March 2013
Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu (2010) is a feature-length documentary derived only from archive footage, from images mostly taken by official camera crew of Ceausescu. It covers the years of Ceausescu reign, between 1965 and 1989. From the footage and camera angles we can easily understand that in most of the occasions more than one camera were used for documenting, and that cameramen were given a broad freedom, even shooting the most intimate moments of the Ceausescu couple.

The role of the director here is mainly to edit the images which are mostly arranged in chronological order, but this is where the brilliance of Andrei Ujica starts to shine! He implements wonderful editing skills, often using montage technique to enrich the narrative. Moreover, in most cases shot/reverse shot is brilliantly used as if this is a well-designed fiction.

For me, this phenomenal documentary, among other things, presents two main issues to remember. First, it shows how the life and people of Romania were seen by a president. How a president lives and how he perceives his country visually. This is because the lens of the camera in most cases can be metaphorically leveled with the eye of Ceausescu. That is why the title of the film is so ironic! We all know that the conditions in Romania were not the same with the images documented by Ceausescu cameramen. And second, it sadly presents how this big communist utopia, this all-happy-people real communism slowly vanishes. It is sad because initial happiness of people really looks like was coming from the heart.

In conclusion, this is a must see documentary, a real cinema pleasure, which bears a potential of numerous discussions, not only about Romania or the so-called communist bloc, but also about the nature of governing and making history.
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A Few Captions and I Would Have Given This Film Two More Stars
richardchatten12 June 2016
Interesting as it is to be able to observe one of the Cold War's craziest dictators at such close quarters for three hours, it's perverse of 'The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu' that it should derive its fascination from the unfamiliarity of the material, but then insist on compromising the impact provided by that very unfamiliarity by deeming itself too cool to bother with fuddy-duddy conventions like commentary and captions to give the audience a much-needed sense of context at critical moments: of which it serves up many. Two sequences that particularly stand out are a breathtaking North Korean pageant in exquisite colour, staged on Ceaușescu's behalf by a beaming Kim Il-sung some time presumably in the seventies; and the 84 year-old communist party veteran Constantin Pîrvulescu taking the podium at the 12th Party Congress in November 1979 and launching into a remarkable attack on Ceaușescu calling for his resignation. (The film left me extremely curious as to what happened to Pîrvulescu next, but it was to Wikipedia that I had to turn to find most of the information I've just given you, and that Pîrvulescu, rather than being immediately killed was simply placed under house arrest, survived the Ceaușescu years and lived to be 96; news that ironically revealed the Ceaușescu regime in a better light than I had anticipated).

There has always struck me as a certain aloof arrogance about documentaries that entirely dispense with commentary. (Just as 'Shoah's refusal to include ANY historical footage - so that we don't even get a photograph of the young Jan Karski during his lengthy interrogation by Claude Lanzmann - actually blunted the impact of the material that Lanzmann piously affected to be giving us unadorned). Andrei Ujică's film ironically adheres as stubbornly to its own particular dogma of self-consciously 'audacious' minimalism as Ceaușescu himself did to his own dogmas in the political and economic spheres. Would it really have hurt for Mr Ujică just occasionally to provide the viewer who has invested three hours of their valuable time in watching his film to have provided the occasional caption dating and contextualising the often lengthy and repetitious film clips that he serves up? Mr Ujică would presumably argue that he's just letting the material speak for itself; but simply by selecting three hours of material out of the thousand hours he viewed he's already decided what we're going to get, and even with the limited guidance he provides I could tell that he wasn't always presenting the material in simple chronological order. (Colour footage of Ceaușescu's 60th birthday celebrations in 1978, for example, is then unexpectedly followed by him giving a speech in black & white on the occasion of his 55th birthday five years earlier). Ujică has his cake and eats it by bookending the film with the kangaroo court Elena and Nicolae Ceaușescu were subjected to on Christmas Day 1989; although once again - presumably deliberately - he throws us a wobbly by not showing us the famous moment four days earlier when Ceaușescu launched into yet another of the speeches we have by now become familiar with, only to be greeted by the unaccustomed sound of booing and heckling.

Should Mr.Ujică ever deign to issue this film exactly as it already is only with captions I will happily revise my rating to Nine Stars.
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interesting idea
sergnechaev24 October 2012
Andrei Ujica's film is an interesting mish-mash of documentary and archive material. Arranged progressively according to the timeline, we are treated to a very long and protracted story of Ceauseascu's life and role in the history of Romania. The film is done according to the very nice-sounding, but eventually problematic motto of "letting the archives and the evidence speak for itself". This proposition can achieve some moniker of success only among those, such as myself, who come from Romania, and know its history well, having studied it at the university level. But to foreigners or even young Romanians, lacking the context and the historical background, the film fails in documenting anything. An external viewer will not know who most of the people in the film are, what the background is for Ceausescu's reactions (such as his speech in 1968 in support of Czechoslovakia) as so forth. The film is also very long, almost three hours, and I admit that even I, who have a professional interest in the documentary material, had to give up half way through and resume later. Making an analogy, the film represents the difference between archive material and a book of history. The material, outside of its chronological arrangement, is raw, lacking subtitles, names etc. in many cases; a documentary based on the material painstakingly gathered by the director would have been much more interesting for the wider public. Still, the film is worth watching for a specialized audience, and shows never before seen material on a very important epoch and person in Romania's history.
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The spectacular reality of Nicolae Ceausescu
tributarystu4 February 2016
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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the duration of the movie is part of the message of the movie
ligia-groza-16-89247121 November 2017
Maybe an explanation of the long duration is this: the duration of the movie is part of the message of the movie. I grew up partly during those times in Romania. Having watched this movie now reminds about the dread of many moments that I lived through, especially of the repetitive propaganda that we all had to listen to every day (2 hours of TV program daily, 90% of the time with his face on the screen). The title of the movie – autobiography – suggests that this is how the title character would have made this movie: in the same egotistic way that he ignored the Romanian population during his dictatorship.
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Don't believe the hype
R-Clercx13 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
When watching this 'documentary' (which isn't accurate as this is more a linear collage of archival footage), I kept wondering when will the director take a stand or provide in some analysis? 180 minutes is long, very long to keep staring at footage most interested in social history will have seen before.

But, this is literally what it is and remains: 180 minutes of archival footage back to back without any narrative what so ever. If one watches this docu hoping you'll learn more about the life of Ceausescu you won't because most interested in this topic will already have seen thetypical news footage.

What is missing is in depth analysis, interviews, arguments pro and against. Basically anyone, given enough time and resources can collect a whole bunch of video footage about a certain person, collage it and then you'll get this result. If anything it makes the figure of Ceausescu more confusing than clear and those who don't know any better might even think he wasn't that bad at all and was set up in the end to fall.
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best 3 hours of history
boxfighter3017 December 2015
this are the best 3 hours of Romanian communist history, a period of nearly 42 years in video, things that you will never find in history books.I find it objective and a real help to understand that era. For those who are not Romanians or interested by the subject , it might be boring, dull or whatever, but again , nobody can't force you to watch it for 180 min, but for me it was a real help on making an image of the years before i was born and the 7 years after that i lived in communism. Glad someone had the courage to do it, too bad its not as promoted as it should among Romanians especially.The title is an irony, because the dictator never had an autobiography or even the chance to see the movie,it presents the debut of communism in Romania and very soon the debut of Ceausescu in the history if the country. We can't judge actions or reactions of the character but we can pretty easily make and opinion about him, especially by listening all his speeches during the movie, where you can have a certain feeling of nationalism surrounding his position towards Romania. As a dictator , he follows the line of all the dictators in the world, living his life in pure luxury while his people struggles to exist, especially in the last years of his "kingdom".Facing the riot of an entire country his faith is sealed, but his death is not people's decision. So before seeing the movie, don't think as if it's an action movie, it's just a history lesson, and if you are not into history, you will never really have the chance to appreciate the quality of this movie. From me it has a 10.
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unbelievably dull and uninformative!
deschreiber15 July 2013
This film may have some interest for people who lived in Rumania through the Ceausescu era, as it shows many of the films and television footage they will have seen over the years. But for anyone else, it is a terrible, terrible film which adds nothing at all to one's understanding. And it is overwhelmingly, excruciatingly dull. The most you can say for it is that it familiarizes you, far more than you ever want, with the face of that ridiculous man.

It opens with the footage most people around the world have seen of the dictator and his wife sitting at what appear to be little schoolroom desks. They are being confronted with charges, as if in some sort of court, and being asked to enter a plea. He steadfastly refuses. All we hear of his crimes is someone off camera accuses him of ordering the shooting of people in a crowd and of bringing the country to the brink of ruin. The scene lasts only a few minutes, then switches to the funeral of his predecessor, the first of many official events and ceremonies. Footage of long lines of people outside the building, shuffling into the building, moving up the stairs, down the corridor, into the room where the body lies, footage of ordinary people viewing the body, footage of this dignitary and that dignitary viewing the body, footage of people leaving the building, footage of the body being carried out and placed on a stage, footage of Ceausescu giving a funeral speech, all this goes on for what seems like forever, conveying next to nothing to the viewer. For nearly three hours we are shown extended--painfully extended--official footage of state events, parades, speeches, dinners, visits by leaders from other countries, Ceausescu visiting other countries. There is really nothing else in the film other than these long, almost meaningless pieces.

The nearest thing to drama comes in a scene in the last half-hour or so at a national party congress. A party official takes the podium and accuses Ceausescu of manipulating the event to have himself re-elected. Someone in the audience shouts it's a lie, and immediately the entire room rises, shouts, and chants, calling for Ceausescu to be re-elected. That is the extent of understanding we are given of the dictatorship. Why on earth was he so reviled that the people rose up against him? Was the country struggling? Were people hungry? Was there injustice and corruption? We have no idea. Was the regime repressive? Not a word is given. At one point we see Ceausescu touring a couple of well stocked food stores. My guess is that a Romanian might watch that and scream that it was all a set-up and that the real stores were empty and the people were starving. But nothing like that is told. Why are we watching him tour the stores? No explanation, just more dreary official footage.

It boggles the mind how anyone could put together such a pointless film as this. It adds nothing to one's understanding of the man, the nation, or the times he presided over. It's simply official archival material strung together chronologically. And, just to be clear, this is a million miles from high-art Leni Riefenstahl material. As a complete outsider, who only knows of the revolution against Ceausescu from news reports at the time, I could have done a better job of shedding light on the life and times of Ceausescu. I don't think I've ever seen a documentary as bad as this before.

For this to get a rating of 7.9 is absurd. Surely the people involved in the film have been here to rate it highly. I give it 1 for Awful because there is no lower rating.
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