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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.