Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

The Paper will be Blue. My extravagantly obscure film review

The Paper will be Blue. Directed by Radu Muntean, Romania, 2006. Writtten by Radu Muntean, Alexandru Baciu and Razvan Radulescu. The film has been shown at festivals in Germany, Hungary and Turkey, but unfortunately, it is not yet in commercial release in U.S. and other Western markets.
This is a film about one of the most iconic and fateful events of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the liberation of Romania in December, 1989. It was the most brutal confrontation of that historical period, and the one that is perhaps least understood. This film is a good first step in making sense of the last days of the Ceausescu regime. Hopefully, it will get distribution beyond the festival circuit and reach the wider audience it deserves.
The film opens with a scene of senseless violence, a case of confusion and wild gunfire in the dawn hours of December 23, 1989. This serves as the context and creates the mood of panic, confusion and deadly danger of this film.
It is the story of militia soldiers who ride around in an armored patrol car, cruising the streets of Bucharest during one of the most dangerous nights of the Romanian revolution. Darkness is everywhere, and the entire film is shot in a field of blackness, the edges of every frame blended into the terrifying unknown. The soldiers, hunched up inside their compact shell, are only really comfortable there inside their armor, for every time they step out of it, they are confronted by a Romania that they cannot understand, that seems to be changing by the minute. They attempt to make contacts on their radio, but are unable to understand the other voices or to be understood. They are lost, spiritually, physically, politically.
The slightest confrontation or moment of choice will be a crisis, and this inevitably occurs when one of them, a soldier named Andronescu, announces that he is sick of this senseless patrolling, and that he will join the revolution. His commanding officer is at a loss what to say or do. He knows his duty, in this case, in the face of desertion, but he cares deeply about the men in his unit, and cannot bring himself to shoot at the deserting soldier. After a few moments of hesitation, he and his fellow soldiers are forced to jump back into their armored car and drive away, as a crowd of angry civilians belt them with rocks and garbage, leaving Andronescu free to run off to join a revolution that is fast spinning out of control.
And so the soldiers continue to ride. Who are they? Who are they protecting? What are they defending and who are they fighting? Who are they serving? What country is this? The soldiers have no idea, and they prefer not to think about it. But the commanding officer is worried about the fate of Andronescu, and about his own responsibility if Andronescu is not there at roll call in the morning. So they head toward the fighting at the television station, trying to find their comrade Andronescu, all the while soothing their nerves with idle chatter about brands of cigarettes and pop music. As the armored vehicle makes it way through the surrealistically transformed landscape of Bucharest, the deserting soldier has his own journey through a transformed land. Andronescu finds himself stripped of his uniform, shooting at adversaries he cannot see or understand. In a world of shifting identities and allegiances, he finds himself trying to convince his sudden captors that he is indeed a Romanian and not an Arab terrorist. He barely escapes with his life, meeting up with his patrol buddies again at the home of his parents. The happy reunion is just one moment in this ongoing madness, however, and the patrol continues through the night until a dawn which brings anything but enlightenment. It will be a while before this turmoil is over, and the danger is far from over.
This is the story of revolution. What seems to us such heroic activity guided by higher ideals of liberty and justice, is often unimaginable confusion and wasteful carnage. Andronescu wants to experience history, but history is only real in hindsight; as it is happening, it is merely deadly chaos.
The performances are very good, the characterizations low keyed and hemmed in, just as these soldiers are hemmed in by circumstances. The dialog is terse and chattering, in nervous counterpoint to the deadly serious events. But the events are at times mercilessly confusing, and this tends to decrease the impact of some of the key scenes. Just because the characters are confused doesn’t mean that the film viewers should be as well! This is especially true at the television station when it is quite difficult to tell which side the soldiers there are defending.
In general, the film is quite successful in that it brings the viewer into that time and place, and makes the madness come alive. I think there is room for further development of some of the characters, as there is so much irony in their predicament that is only obliquely alluded to. As for the ending, I was a bit disappointed that the filmmaker chose not to show the final scene that we are left to imagine. It seems like a choice of modesty that does not give full impact to the pathological nature of war.

May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] The Paper will be blue, film by Radu Muntean […]

    Pingback by Tales from the Golden Age: Cristian Mungiu hits his stride « Dominic Ambrose Blogblot | September 3, 2011 | Reply

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