Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12:08 East of Bucharest

12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2007) [6]
The first half of this film is so drifting that it almost ruins the entire film. Porumboiu takes so much time setting up the crux of his story that he almost sabotages himself before he gets started. This film centers on a small-town Romanian television station and its self-important anchor/news director and on a debate on whether a revolution actually occurred in the overthrow of Nicolae Caeusescu''s dictatorship 16 years earlier. Porumboiu uses the first half of the film to set up the three main characters that will make up the debate: Manescu, the self-righteous reporter, Piscoci, an old man known for being the town Santa, and Jderescu, a drunk, broke professor. Really none of this backstory has any importance to the strength of the film, which is the television debate. Filmed in real time, and with aesthetics that make it look like it may actually be a small-town Romanian new program, it is a marvel of dry, deadpan humor. Manescu asks a question that did an actual revolution occur in the town or did people just follow others after Caeusescu's demise. Jderescu claims he and his colleagues were there before 12:08, the time of the overthrow. Piscoci claims that he followed other down to the square. A series of callers refute Jderescu, call him a drunk, and throw the program into disregard. What makes all this work is the futility of the whole thing. Manescu wants to be the intrepid reporter but will never get a straight answer. Jderescu refuses to budge on his original statement that he was there before 12:08. Piscoci is practically useless, every once and a while wondering what the point of the program is. Even the amateur production techniques, which are humorously recreated, add to Manescu's exasperation. Porumboiu purpose of the whole enterprise is to debunk the mythical ideals of revolution. These aren't ideal revolutionary figures; they are petty, squabbling, and aren't really that concerned with the revolution itself. By using a small town and a no account news program, Porumboiu really hits on the point that big ideas like change and revolution are always fleeting. This is a Romania where nobody really remembers the past and the search for answers is met by clueless bystanders.

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