Scenes from the Romanian revolution

8 Min Read

By Myriam Ghattas

“My name is Rodica Marcau. I am from the Timisoara Co-op store. I defended the store on Sunday. The Securitate shot at us on our way home. Some were arrested and tortured. They were beaten with riffle-butts. I am bedridden now but…I wish to join the youth of Timisoara and Bucharest and of the whole country in the great revolution. We want a better life, freedom for the people, enough bread to eat and happiness. We don’t want a dictator. We want Ceausescu to be put on trial…All of us in the hospital support those in Opera Square…”

Relaying this message to the videographers, Marcau lay in agonizing pain in a hospital bed in Timisoara having suffered multiple gunshot wounds inflicted on her by the secret police, a.k.a the Securitate. It was important for her to ensure that her voice would be heard and that her people will hold out and remain strong in the fight against an overbearing leader and his government.

“Videogramme Einer Revolution” (Videogram of a Revolution, 1992) documents the pivotal week of the Romanian revolution in 1989 which led to the toppling of Ceausescu’s 25-year communist dictatorial reign over his country. At a time when Egypt — and the Arab world at large — is experiencing similar historical events, it is more than an object of intellectual or cultural curiosity to take a look at another people’s cry for freedom and the success they achieved with their sacrifice.

The documentary is composed of a series of videos that were collected from a variety of sources and compiled together by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica. The videos were recorded by amateur videographers and professional cameramen and were mixed with broadcasts from the Romanian television to form a quilt of the events taking place in Bucharest on a daily basis. Their development is conveyed with a growing sense of immediacy and urgency as those operating the cameras frantically chase after the action trying to capture as much of the unfolding history as they can muster.

The viewer can overhear the videographers commenting on the events they are filming or sometimes reacting to harrowing gun shots or explosions. The filmmakers show the same scenes happening from different angles taken by the different cameras and, in so doing, clarify some events that appear obscure at first sight. As such, the film reads like a newscast shot on location minus the presenter plus the behind-the-scenes.

Many of the shots are taken in a manner consistent with point-of-view photography, which heightens the involvement of the viewer with what they are watching.

“Videogram of a Revolution” is a strangely subjective and personal film despite its presentation from a distant and highly objective perspective. The filmmakers opted to show the various videos with very little interference or commentary. Their biggest stamp on the film may be the intertitles, though even those are oftentimes more functional than judgmental.

Audiences will find themselves served with an unexpected lesson in cinematography as they become aware of the limitations of the frame, of the camera angle and the depth of field. At times, there are events that we hear but cannot see. At other times, the situation is reversed. Finally, we feel the frustration of the cameramen when they are locked out of a meeting and prevented from documenting.

A prominent example of this aspect of the film occurs while Nicolea Ceausescu is making what is soon to become his final speech from the balcony of the Central Committee building in Bucharest. The communist leader begins to address the throngs of protestors gathered in Palace Square with formulaic sentences that reek of his utter denial of the magnitude of the events unfolding (disturbingly reminiscent in this sense of Mubarak’s last speech) when he is suddenly interrupted and looks at a point off camera where there is clearly a disturbance taking place. The filmmakers try to elucidate the mysterious reaction using footage taken from different angles, but their attempt is unsuccessful.

Notwithstanding those limitations, the documentary certainly illustrates an important phenomenon: any events, be they minor or major in nature, can be reconstructed with photographic and videographic evidence even if the media is not present at hand to capture them. It may have been difficult enough to record videos in 1989 impoverished Romania, yet the filmmakers managed to obtain 125 hours worth of footage to sift through and document this page in history.

Nowadays, the proliferation of consumer and prosumer photographic equipment, ranging from cell phones to affordable cameras, ensures that even the most mundane events, let alone significant ones, are recorded and shared. Thanks to this simplified ability, mediatized cover-ups and false claims to the public have become far more difficult to sustain in the face of a plethora of amateur videos that threaten to refute the twisted stories instantaneously on the World Wide Web. The present documentary already alluded to this increased access to transparency when it compared Romanian television broadcasts with the footage taken by the news team’s camera crew itself and otherwise by amateur videographers nearby.

Faithful to the trend adopted throughout the film, Farocki and Ujica show the Ceausescus’ trial and their execution as seen on the national television news broadcasts. We watch the news on the television sets simultaneously with the journalists and civilians who are watching them. No live footage is included other than that of the reaction of the Romanian people. The impact of those images becomes exponentially multiplied thus.

The film opens and closes with personal testimonials coming from Romanian civilians who participated in the events, sacrificed themselves and lost relatives and friends in the course of the revolution. They express their deepest wishes for freedom, unity and happiness in heartfelt outcries, with tears of pain mingled with tears of joy.

A civilian delivers a moving monologue which he concludes thus, voicing the thoughts and feelings of all his countrymen: “And so let’s never forget to support each other. Because that’s what life demands of us…Long live free Romania.” United as such, they bring about a new dawn for themselves, their children, and their beloved country.

History at present is repeating itself and will continue to do so until the need for it has passed.

“Videogram of a Revolution” is showing this week as part of the Panorama of European Film.

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