12:08 East Of Bucharest

2006, Movie, NR, 89 mins

Review

12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST | A FOST SAU N-A FOST?
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Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu grapples with his country's troubled recent past in this wonderfully droll, Cannes Camera d'Or winner about a local TV station owner who attempts to define the events of December 22, 1989.

December 22, 2005. It's the 16th anniversary of the violent revolution that ousted and executed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and tiny TV station owner Virgil Jderescu (Teodor Corban) is preparing for his afternoon call-in talk show, "Issue of the Day." To commemorate the date, Jderescu's hopes to conduct a live, in-studio interview with two witnesses about what exactly occurred. The revolution did succeed in ending 22 years of bizarre misrule, but these days many disillusioned Romanians consider that bloody coup d'etat to be a revolution in name only. After 16 more years of poverty and rampant corruption, many wonder if a revolution occurred at all. In a sense, that's the question Virgil asks his two special guests: Was there, or was there not, a revolution in their small city? And if people did take to the streets, was it before Ceausescu fled Bucharest at exactly 12:08 pm, or after? Was the activity in this city's town square a revolt or merely a reaction? On hand to offer their memories of that day are Tiberiu Manescu (Ion Sapdaru), an alcoholic history professor at a local school, and Old Man Piscoci (Mircea Andreescu), a cranky retiree whom Virgil calls in at the last minute to replace a no-show. Manescu claims to have participated in a bold, four-man demonstration in the otherwise empty town square before noon, and claims he was beaten by the now powerful factory owner Bejan (Lucian Pinzaru), who once served as a member of the dreaded Securitate -- the Romanian secret police. Callers, however, dial-in in to the program to dispute Manescu's claims. The first insists that Manescu and his colleagues had spent that momentous day drinking and carousing, not demonstrating. The second, a sentry at the town hall, disputes Manescu's claim that he was there at all. The third caller is Bejan himself who threatens to sue Jderescu for libel. Old Man Piscoci, meanwhile, admits that he didn't storm the square until after 12:08. He admits he's a coward, like his fellow citizens, but plaintively argues that "One makes whatever revolution one can." By attempting to piece together what, if anything, happened on the morning of December 22, 1989, Jderescu opens a can of worms: Clearly this particular page in Romanian history is wide open for interpretation.

Old Man Piscoci likens the 1989 revolution, which was ignited in Timosoara then spread to Bucharest and beyond, to a string of street lights that turn on one by one at dusk. Porumboiu opens his film with shots of streets lights turning off as another dingy dawn breaks over a Romanian city that hasn't seen better days for quite a long time. Clearly the dream of a better tomorrow once held by the downfall of Ceausescu has died, but in humorously splitting hairs over whether a revolution occurred in his city, Jderescu begs an important question. Does the ultimate meaning of an uprising lie in its aftermath? And if so, is it ever too late for Romania to turn the events of the receding past into a true revolution? leave a comment --Ken Fox

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