12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2006)

Wryly written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, who was 14 when Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime, and along with it Communism, collapsed in Romania in 1989, A fost sau n-a fost? questions the weight of this event—recent past for some; ancient for others—on Romania’s present. The setting is a small, sleepy town, Vaslui. Jderescu, the owner of a local television station, moderates a news-interview show; Manescu is an alcoholic, debt-ridden history teacher; Piscoci, a retiree and one-time Christmastime Santa Claus. Flanking him, the last two are Jderescu’s TV guests on December 22, the anniversary of the “revolution.” Behind the trio is a blown-up photograph of the Vaslui town square, where there either was or wasn’t a protest against Ceauşescu on that fateful day sixteen years ago before the dictator helicoptered his way out of Bucharest. Everyone agrees that once Ceauşescu fled for his life townsfolk flooded the square.
     Pompously assuring viewers that he is a journalist committed to discovering the truth, Jderescu relentlessly interrogates Manescu, who (convincingly) claims to have been one of four teachers to have participated in the protest prior to Ceauşescu’s hasty departure from power. (Two of Manescu’s compatriots are dead; the other now lives in Canada.) Call-in viewers assist Jderescu in his attack, claiming to have seen no such morning protest as Manescu describes and branding him a liar. But their accounts are riddled with inconsistencies, not to mention pro-Ceauşescu bias, that Jderescu declines to take on. When a Chinese-born caller defends Manescu, Jderescu proves himself a chauvinist. The final caller says that the moderator and guests should go outside and enjoy falling snow before the ground turns to mud.
     Except for the flat program set, interiors seem dreary leftovers from the days of Soviet domination.
     Exteriors are gorgeous.

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