Dir: Radu Gabrea. Romania. 2012. 90mins


Differently handled, this attempt to portray the last three days in the life of the late Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, before they were summarily executed on Christmas Day 1989, could have thrown a chilly, disturbing light on many of the recent violent changes which took place recently on the world’s political map. But Radu Gabrea’s version of the events misses both the dramatic angle of the story and the historical lesson it should imply. There is little chance of any international interest, the only eventual option being limited television exposure.

Gabrea attempts to draw an intimate portrait of the most hated couple in recent Romanian history.

Gabrea, a veteran director with a long record in both fiction and documentary, has mingled the two genres together using, wherever possible, archive footage covering the events combined with contemporary interviews with people who were directly involved at the time in the failed attempt of the Ceausescu couple to escape the wrath of the Bucharest demonstrations. The rest is filled with a fictional rendition of their flight, enacted by professional actors who look uneasy and embarrassed by the parts they have to play, mostly as the younger versions of the afore-mentioned interviewees. The film screened at the Transilvania International Film Festival in Cluj.

Starting with the crowds marching on the presidential palace, Gabrea follows the couple as they are being spirited away by helicopter to Targoviste, a town where they wrongly believed steel workers to be supporting them and willing to provide the necessary shelter. Every step of their journey is accompanied by a blistering barrage of media reports of their whereabouts which keep haunting as the Ceausescu’s final saga blunderingly moves ahead in a surprisingly unexciting manner.

Militia men pick them on the roadside and they are put up for a couple of nights in a military compound. There, Ceausescu self-importantly reminds everyone he is the supreme commander of the Romanian army and demands his faithful generals be immediately contacted to punish the traitors who are chasing him, without realizing that there is no one left for him to rely on. Finally, the deposed tyrant and his wife are flown back to the capital, put in front of an improvised tribunal, condemned to death and swiftly executed, in a rushed procedure of questionable legality.  

All through this, Gabrea attempts to draw an intimate portrait of the most hated couple in recent Romanian history, but comes up with a sketch of two foolish old people, who can’t quite understand what’s happening to them or why and who almost pathetically trying to lie their way out of every corner they paint themselves in.

But Constantin Cojocaru (who plays Ceausescu) and Victoria Cocias as his wife Elena offer such blandly uninteresting and one-dimensional interpretations while the rest of the characters surrounding them look so unconvinced by their parts and with the lines they are provided that they drain out all potential excitement out of the film. And if there are plenty of relevant questions popping up along the way, none of them is fully addressed or explored by the script.

Production companies: Total TV, Atlantis Film, Budapest Film Studio

International sales: Total TV, elena.bunea@gmail.com

Producers: Victoria Cocias

Screenplay: Grigore Cartianu

Cinematography:  Alexandru Macarie, Geogre Dascalescu

Editor: Melania Oproiu

Main cast: Constantin Cojocaru, Victoria Cocias, Costel Cascaval