Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I'm an Old Communist Hag (orig. Sunt o babă comunistă) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Cinemagia.ro listing*

CineEuropa (S. Dobroiu) review
NextProjection.com (R. Doyle) review

RomaniaLibera.ro (G. Lupu) review*

I'm an Old Communist Hag (orig. Sunt o babă comunistă) [2013] [IMDb] [CM.ro]* (directed and screenplay cowritten by Stere Gulea [IMDb] [CM.ro]* along with Lucian Dan Teodorovici [IMDb] [CM.ro]* and Vera Ion [IMDb] [CM.ro]* based on the novel* [review]* by Dan Lungu [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]*) is Romanian comedy that gleefully played recently as part of the 6th Annual Romanian Cultural Marathon organized by the Chicago based Romanian Cultural Exchange (ROCX) at Facet's Multimedia in Chicago. 

Don't let the title fool you.  Though a comedy with a title that could seem on one hand to be dismissive and on the other perhaps rather provocative, this is a very intelligent film.  And I being of Czech parentage (the Czech Republic as part of Czechoslovakia having been, like Romania, part of the old Soviet Communist Bloc), I can assure readers here that the situations / dialogues in this film are very current / real.  

60-year-old Emilia (played magnificently throughout by Luminiţa Gheorghiu [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) is the film's (somewhat reluctantly) self-professed "old Communist hag."  I write that she's "somewhat reluctant" in professing herself as such because she's actually somewhat forced into the declaration at a family get-together following her 30-something daughter Alice's (played by Ana Ularu [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) return with her blond, somewhat boyish-looking American fiancé Alan (played by Collin Blair [IMDb] [CM.ro]*).  Emilia knew from her daughter that she's come back to Romania with her American boyfriend with some financial troubles.  So during the get-together with this in the back of her mind, when the conversation turns to "the bad old days of Communism," she does note that ALL THINGS CONSIDERED there were SOME good things back then as well.  She declares: "Look folks, I / we all had a job, we all had roofs over our heads, and we all had friends (at the factory and at home)." "Come on, you can't be saying that it was all good back then?"  "No I'm not, but IT WAS MY YOUTH and it WASN'T ALL BAD EITHER."  "Oh mom, you've not become an 'old Communist hag.'?"  "Well maybe that's what I've become, but I'M TELLING YOU, IT WASN'T ALL BAD EITHER."

Now AFTERWARDS, we hear Emilia herself reflect on this description: "So THAT'S WHAT I'VE BECOME?  An old Communist hag?  (READERS NOTE HERE, SHE HAD BEEN A PARTY MEMBER...), that's what WE ALL used to call the old Party Apparatchiks." (She herself did not consider herself as such ... though she does explain in the film that yes, she did "join the Party" at some point, but "that's what you did when you were offered a promotion to foreman at the plant."  To get the position, ONE HAD TO join the Party...).

The rest of the film is EXCELLENT, precisely because it DOES NOT portray the Communist Era in "bright shining colors."  In fact, it points out REPEATEDLY HOW CRAZY Romania's Communist Era dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu [en.wikip] [ro.wikip]* was.  For instance in the film, Emilia was repeatedly remembered as "The woman who NEARLY shook the hand of Ceausescu."  Why?  Well, it gets explained: Along with several others at the plant, she was picked by the Plant Manager for this "honor."  HOWEVER, because Ceausescu was absolutely insane, HE was ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED that he'd catch some disease from the people he was put in contact with.  SO good old Emilia and the 4 or 5 others selected from the plant to "shake the hand" of the soon-to-be-visiting Ceausescu WERE PUT INTO ISOLATION (QUARANTINED) FOR 30 DAYS PRIOR to Ceausescu's visit TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY WEREN'T INFECTED WITH ANYTHING.  Then, of course Ceausescu's PLANS CHANGED ... ;-) ... so after 30 days of being in isolation (AS IF THEY WERE ASTRONAUTS OR SOMETHING ...) they didn't get to "shake his hand" ANYWAY ;-)

So this is NOT a pro-Communist film at all.  But I do believe that it articulates the experiences of QUITE A FEW of AVERAGE / RUN-OF-THE-MILL people ALL ACROSS THE FORMER COMMUNIST BLOC (Again, I've heard similar sentiments among SOME Czech family members of my own).  And it's NOT that ANYONE (!!) wants to go back to "Ceausescu" (or ANY the Old Soviet Bloc) but the FREE-MARKET SLOGANEERING OF TODAY SOUNDS AN AWFUL LOT LIKE THE "PROGRESSIVE / SOCIALIST" SLOGANEERING OF THE SOVIET ERA.  Slogans don't employ people, people employ people.

Anyway, "Old Communist" Emilia and her level-headed husband Tocu (played by Marian Râlea [IMDb] [CM.ro]*) has to deal with her unemployed and financially in trouble daughter and her fish-out-of-water American boyfriend ... much ensues ... ;-)

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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