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Phenomenal Romanian drama exposes the dirty tactics of youth oppression during the Communist era - from the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE RED SEA

Ana (Maga Bugarin) is an intelligent, resolute and yet vaguely timid teenager. She is also bursting with love and hormones, and becomes devastated at the news that her boyfriend Sorin (Serban Lazarovici) is about the flee the country for Germany. The year is 1972, shortly after Nicolae Ceaușescu tightened his grip on the nation by passing draconian censorship and treason laws that could land anyone vaguely rebellious in prison. The Cold War was at its height, and the prospect of defection is deemed as profoundly subversive, and it will not be tolerated by the oppressive State Security Department.

Ana meets a group of friends for a small private party. A poster of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) hangs behind the door. They listen to Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and – first and foremost – Jimi Hendrix. They hear on the radio that the iconic singer of The Doors had just died of a heart attack. They own a few vinyls, but the majority of the music is delivered by the pirate station Radio Free Europe Metronom, their biggest and most reliable connection to the marvellous world of Western culture. They dance passionate and vigorously, displaying their groovy rock’n roll moves. Their attire has a splash of hippie. They are hardly different from your average teen on the other side of Europe and the world. The young actors are very talented, vouching for an engaging experience.

Our young characters know that they live in a dictatorship. They joke about their dislike of their Beneral Secretary: “my Ceaușescu stamp doesn’t work?/ that’s because you are spitting on the wrong side”, and “why do you carry an image of Ceaușescu in your wallet?/ because every time I miss Romania I look at it and no longer miss it”. But their entertainment is about to to be cut short. State Security officers storm into the apartment and take every single one of them in for interrogation, and there is nothing funny about that. Their interrogation tactics are extremely degrading and – precisely for that reason – also effective. They order to young people to write statement describing their activities in as much detail as possible. They are also prepared to use physical violence for intimidation purposes. They play deceitful mind games. Every single adolescent breaks down, except for Ana. In a way, her suffering is so intense that you wish she would just give up her martyrdom. Her doting father begs that she obeys the authorities. For how long can she hold her noble determination to protect her friends and uphold her values?

Metronom is a deeply political and also humane film. It raises questions about resistance and complacence. Who inflicts most suffering on others: the rebel of the conformist? This question is repeatedly asked throughout the movie in different shapes and forms, in a clever script that never slips into cliches and predictable platitudes.

This is also a technically and aesthetically accomplished film. A very unusual aspect ratio combined with dark and grainy footage, vaguely reminiscent of 16mm, give Metronom a vintage feel. It looks like a movie made indeed made 50 years ago, except of course that Romanian authorities would have not allowed such film to be made at the time. Forty-two-year-old director Alexandru Belc takes viewers on a dark and yet fascinating journey to the past, to a time before he was even born.

Metronom just showed at the 2nd Red Sea International Film Festival, as part of the Festival Favourites strand. The film premiered earlier this year in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes, where it won the Best Director Prize. A much deserved prize.


By Victor Fraga - 07-12-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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