Wednesday, November 26, 2014

European Film Festival Review - I'm an Old Communist Hag

Emilia (Luminita Gheorghiu) is a pensioner quietly living in a small Romanian community with her husband Tucu (Marian Ralea). Tucu visits the local market to obtain a few items for their apartment and for his wife's cooking while Emilia's tends to the home when she's not touring around town admonishing old men for drinking away their pension money. She often shows kindness to her former cleaning lady Maricica (Coca Bloos) who is now homeless living in a clunker car outside of Emilia's building.  One day she receives a call from her daughter Alice (Ana Ularu) announcing that she is on her way home in 10 days from North America for a visit with her American fiancee Alan (Collin Blair). The pending arrival of her daughter makes Emilia take a close look at her current situation making her realize that her stake in life was better during the Communist era under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Director Stere Gulea mixes in flashbacks with current day to show the build up to the most special moment in Emilia's life as factory foreman being chosen to shake the hand of Ceausescu  in a visit to the then thriving town factory in 1989. The flashbacks are in black and white showing Emilia joking with co-workers meeting with the plant boss about the ceremony along with receiving precise instructions on how to behave in Ceausescu's presence from Communist party officials. Security was so tight that Tucu and grade school aged Alice were not allowed on the grounds.

In the present the plant is closed, rundown and abandoned. A director is filing a documentary about 1989 August 23 celebrations called Life During Communism. The production team asked Emilia first for her Communist Party card then to appear in the film. On a visit to the set she wanders over to the plant meting a former co-worker who is acting as a security guard for the building sparking an idea in Emilia's mind.  Alice and Alan arrive under different circumstances then expected.  The financial crisis hit them directly. Alice's company pulled out of Canada moving back to the U.S while Alan's big ideas have not found a solid hold landing them on shaky ground with the bank circling around their home. Their predicament serves as another sign to Emilia that the Communist ways were more stable.  She had a guaranteed job, a freshly painted apartment, people were not sleeping on the street  plus she had hopes that Alice would become an engineer in the plant allowing her to stay at home.

Luminita Gheorghiu is the centre of the production playing Emilia. She is rooted in the old world, often an object of amusement by the younger generation due to her staunch communist values by evidence that her young relative would think of her first when the local film needed a communist party card considering that everyone else burned theirs. Emilia's response to the director as to why she did not do the same; She wanted to be ready if the Communist came back to power. Marian Ralea is well suited for the role of Tucu. He is far mellower that his wife, willing to roll with the punches that life throws his way greeting each new situation with a smile and a laugh.

I'm an Old Communist Hag is a look at two worlds pointing out the flaws in the expected good one while noting some of the positive elements of the presumed bad one.  Emilia romanticizes the past in order to cope with sparse conditions in the present. Director Gulea does balance Emilia's fervor with comments from others who have their hopes and dreams crushed under the Ceausescu regime. But in the end Emilia and Tucu take action locally that has positive effects for her daughter on the other side of the Atlantic.

*** out of 4.

I'm an Old Communist Hag | Stere Gulea | Romania | 2013 | 97 Minutes.

Tags: Communism, Nicolae Ceausescu, Financial Crisis, Homecoming, Pensioners,  August 23 Celebrations.

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