Classic of the week – Re-enactment (Reconstituirea)

Lucian Pintilie  (1969)

Pintilie is a director little known in western Europe, but one who is named by many of the latest generation of Romanian directors as their inspiration. Much of his work was done in the theatre, but Reconstituirea, his second feature made in 1969,shows an unerringly cinematic eye, and it’s his masterpiece, voted by the Romanian Critics Circle as the country’s best film. Screened sporadically in Romania immediately after it was made but soon banned, it made it to Cannes in 1970. Shot under the strictures of Communism, it succeeds, remarkably, in presenting a critique of its political system with all the apparent verve and freedom and poetry of its contemporary Western European neighbours – and 1968/9 were the years of, for example, Weekend, Blow Up, Teorema, The Shame… Its special, very Romanian, ingredient is a sense of hopeless absurdity straight out of Ionesco.

In a drunken brawl two young lads have attacked and injured an older man. Officialdom has decreed that as their punishment and as a lesson to others it will film a reconstruction of the event with the same protagonists. Officials, film makers and the young offenders arrive at the run-down seaside joint where the event took place, where the good-natured victim is waiting. In contrast to the desperate seriousness of officialdom to get things just right, the total absurdity of the exercise is pointed up by a cheerful group of local onlookers, a kind of Hardyesque chorus, including the classic insouciant pretty girl beloved of the Nouvelle Vague, and a local teacher who philosophises bitterly about the situation, and accompanied by sporadic off-screen cheers from a nearby football game. Inconsequential happenings, including the escape and pursuit of an old lady’s geese, punctuate the action, as the re-enactment draws to its meaningless and ultimately tragic close. A feeling of despair, despite the many comic and playful moments, pervades, as everything turns sour, and the arrival of the jubilant and curious football crowd on their way home brings an emotion which the passing years have made more poignant, as one looks at those ordinary people’s faces and knows what was in store for them. This is a film that certainly deserves wider recognition.

Seen at Transilvania International Film Festival,  Cluj, 2011


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