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Film review: 50 years from ”The Reenactment” by Flavia Dima

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Reenactment by Lucian Pintilie, the Romanian film considered the best in the history of Romanian Cinema by the Romanian Film Critics Association. The film critic Flavia Dima accepted our invitation to write about this work of art.

I must admit that I am approaching the writing of this text with some fear. Not only because of that voice in my head saying „Who the hell are you to be writing about the Reenactment anyway?”, but also because of the fact that it has been much discussed and written about in the past five decades from its production. As is natural, for a film considered to be the very best in the history of Romanian Cinema; whose undeniable value is illustrated by the fact that it has been purchased by one of the most significant art institutions in the world – MoMA. However, Lucian Pintilie’s masterpiece should be brought back into discussion not only because of it’s 50th birthday (just this week, the films two main actors, George Mihaita and Vladimir Gaitan, were honoured with the Gopo Award for their entire careers), but more so in order to see what the echoes and actualities of its profoundly alternative message are, in an artistic and socio-political climate that is, in appearance, completely different from what it used to be.

Around Reenactment, a veritable mythology has been created – built from numerous anecdotes and works of analysis on its contemporary reception:  it was filmed under pressure of a rumour, circulating after Nicolae Ceausescu’s famous speech, given on the 21st of August 1968, that Romania will be invaded just like Czechoslovakia was. Simultaneously, it was filmed with the hope that it will be a reply to Alexandr Dubcek’s idea of cultural freedom (which, as we now know, never came to be). Between the discussions on what it was exactly that bothered Ceausescu-Iliescu about this film (The image of corrupt authority? That of the nihilistic and confused young?) and the confessions that verify the events which constituted the base for Horia Patrascu’s novella and, later, the script’s, or even the film’s double launch (and it’s interdiction) – the stories told about this film, suffocate it. Perhaps that it why Pintilie himself is silent on the matter: within the 700 pages of the massive Bricabrac volume, which contains autobiographic writings and critical notes on the filmmaker’s films and theatre plays, there is no chapter dedicated to the director’s early work (his debut feature film „Sunday at Six”, having also been omitted). It is true however that the film rises up to meet a completely real phenomenon: the National Film Archive is full of crime reconstructions and educational films, made with all sorts of criminals – more or less petty, the most famous of which is probably the film reconstituting the Great Communist Robbery of 1959.

Perhaps one of Pintilie’s own quotes is still the most eloquent way to end this introduction (him being a man eternally aware of the effect his work has); a quote taken from a discussion about the other great controversial episode of his career – the interdiction of his show, The Revizor, in 1972: „(…) all these interdictions – liberal coquetries – did nothing more than enlarging the sulfurous reputation of these sanctioned works, the impact, the broadcasting. Thus, the artist’s refusal to compromise his vision through the acceptance of partial censorship, described as a process similar to that of mutilation or castration, obtains an instantaneous „new life, original immaculation, untouchable this time around, a perennial and legendary dimension.”

***

Lucian Pintilie is a film author with a rare capacity to simultaneously section human psychology and politic’s effects on social and individual behaviour, creating films that are as stratified as they are veridic. Reconstruction follows the attempt to film an educational short, based on an apparently banal incident: a drunken fight between two newly graduated high school students, Vuica (Mihaita) and Ripu (Gaitan), which ends with the accidental cracking of the waiter’s skull and the breaking of local property. The two are then arrested and threatened that they are to be sent to jail. They are then forced to reconstruct the fight for the camera – in exchange for their freedom ( a fact that is hidden from them, however, for most of the film’s length). Driven by an immoral prosecutor, the film crew tries to calm the impulsive young men’s reactions, as much as possible, but things seem to be going badly, from the very beginning. Within the situation’s grotesque, a single character seems to have kept his moral and intellectual integrity: the Professor (Emil Botta), who, after continuous confrontations with the forces of order, in which he explicitly underlines the monstrosity of the process that the two boys are being submitted to, ends up losing his calm and getting drunk. He represents the entire film’s consciousness – which explains why he is also the only one to gaze directly at the camera, into the viewer’s eyes, after he has reduced to silence.

The field’s calm and predictable space, in which the „Seagull” buffet is located, is perturbed once the car transporting the men arrives, due to the fact that the car’s honk has gotten stuck and is ringing out, as a sort of symbolic alarm that announces the gravity of what is to come. In fact, the film’s tragic ending is announced by the director from the very beginning: in the film’s first few minutes, a short sequence shows the empty surroundings of the „Seagull’s” cabin, juxtaposed with the sound (coming from off-screen) of a noisy, dissatisfied mob, gathered in a nearby european football stadium (a contrast that makes one think of the last scene, when the many people come through the field), as well as the line coming after the frame: „It has been foreseen! Special, pay attention!”

Actually, Pintilie’s entire project is marked by certain meta-cinematographic notes, perhaps in spite of the fact that the film’s action is supposed to be happening in real time: the opening credits are built from multiple doubles of the scene in which Vuica falls, face first, into the mud. In the very beginning, there is also a montage of somewhat random images, which seems to pay homage to „Persona’s” dream sequence. This is not the only time Pintilie quotes iconic sequences from world cinema – the hand run over with ants, from Bunuel’s „Le Chien Andalou”, appears through the juxtaposition of the Prosecutor’s hand with a group of ants moving around on a piece of wood. Last but not least, Pintilie plays with the notion of camera subjectivity – the Prosecutor fools around before the start of the filming process, looking through the camera: the film takes on the responsibility of representing the things he sees through the lens, blurred and chaotic in his stupid game. Towards the end, the camera keeps following Vuică from behind, as he climbs up from a hole in which he keeps falling in in some takes – climbing back to Ripu and the rest of the team, we associate what we see beyond his shoulders as being his point-of-view, his return to his torturers.

The constraint, manipulation and denial of individual liberty are the few concepts that build the nucleus of The Reenactment. Besides the default message of the main theme, especially regarding the operating mechanisms of the communism, Pintilie explores with attention how these concepts fit into a community, how they structure the relationships between people and create hierarchies, but as well their effects on the mind and destiny. Vuică and Ripu are not the type of persons that could adapt to a social organisation based on predictability – the first one it chaotic and funny, and the second is, apparently, silent and stoic. The failure of acting like normal citizens (they fight with each other several times during the film, disappear, etc.) is in contrast with their simple interests, specific with their age: football games and drinking, songs about women and the art of seduction, travelling. The banality of the situation in which they are makes the reaction of the others more disgusting. This is mainly because this reaction reflects the way in which the state control apparatus works to repeal the free will of the citizens, to ‘correct’ their normal behaviour in order to create the New Man.  Unfortunately, everything works so well that the ones ‘corrected’ become part of the process: the football fans ostracize Vuică, who doesn’t join the crowd, make fun of him and abuse him. Maybe this is why we can see the resemblance between the greeting of the Prosecutor by raising the hand, when he passes by car, and the Nazi salute. By silently accepting these forms of control in their own advantage, they become accomplices of the crimes that are happening.

But, I think that it is wrong to presume that Vuică and Ripu are exclusively the ‘product’ of a system based on control mechanisms which are deeply rooted in the structure of society.  They come despite it. But even so, these two characters could be real even now, fifty years later. The image of a society that is hostile towards young people and their impulsive energy (we find out that the Teacher’s daughter killed herself, and the Miss is badly treated by everyone) is not so strange because Pintilie also brings up the subject about dysfunctional education. Any educational process, especially produced under punitive circumstances, is a mechanism of suppressing the human behaviour, to radically change it, and not a process of knowledge enrichment and skills acquirement, as Paveliu deplores it: ‘This is education?’. So, it is obvious that a violent person like Ripu will be condemned to repeat over and over again the same mistakes, or that an unpredictable and impulsive character like Vuică will die young. They have absolutely no chance in this kind of world. Maybe this causes the total lack of perspective of Vuică or his total indifference to the imminent end of his own life. After all, those famous last words which he says at the end of the film show not just this, but also a complete lack of attachment towards the things that this life could offer in a suffocating society, which allied with its own oppressors. This is the last rebellion facing death: ‘I don’t give a shit!’

 

by Flavia Dima
English translation by Maia Petrigenaru Van Kline

 

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