Images alone prove brutality
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Oct 07, 2011
Like last year's "A Film Unfinished," Yael Hersonski's mesmerizing film that re-purposed a Nazi propaganda film to explore the realities its makers sought to obscure, "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" uses Soviet-era lies to uncover buried truths about its subject.
Running at three hours and with no narration, Andrei Ujica's engrossing collage of images - both impressionistic and rigorously methodical - takes on the rhythmic psychic cadences of a trance, its cascade of state-sponsored photo ops and staged events resembling short chamber pieces of political theater. Opening with the mock trial of Ceausescu and his wife, who were executed in 1989, "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" uses the brutal, self-aggrandizing dictator's own self-
mythology to draw an improbably candid portrait.
From the moment he comes to power as Romania's Communist leader in 1967, through the starvation and repression the country suffered under his iron rule, Ceausescu's record - however distorted by its propagandistic uses - speaks for itself. Even as he mercilessly squelched the intellectual freedoms and day-to-day lives of his citizens, Ceausescu was being legitimized by no less than the Queen of England, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.
A study in pomp, pageantry and the poverty and oppression they belied, "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" is brimming with moments of startling irony, chilling candor and even beauty: Romanian young people dancing to "I Fought the Law" in the 1960s; Ceausescu at a highly choreographed meeting with Mao Tse Tung and later in North Korea; home movies of Ceausescu playing backgammon; a visit to the Universal back lot in Hollywood.
With no narration or supporting context, "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" may be confusing to viewers who aren't students of the Iron Curtain or Romanian history. But as these progressively more dramatic images burrow their way into the viewer's consciousness, they prove every bit as eloquent as the most erudite text. When, finally, a lone figure in the Romanian parliament rises to object to Ceausescu's rule and is drowned out by the apparatchiks who surround him, the sequence is as stunning and sobering as any third act dreamed up on the very back lot Ceausescu visited.
"The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu" is a must-see for any student of history, political rhetoric and film poetics at their most vagrant and revelatory.
Contains nothing objectionable.