Intercutting archival footage from state-controlled television with Brechtian style enactments, Radu Jude’s indictment of 1980s Communist Romania will test the patience of even the most hardened experimental-arthouse cineaste.
Dir. Radu Jude
2020 | Romania | Documentary/Experimental | 128 mins | Romanian
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some coarse language
Cast: Serban Pavlu, Alexandru Potocean, Ioana Iacob
Plot: It is the story of Mugur Calinescu, a Romanian teenager who wrote graffiti messages of protest against the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and was subsequently apprehended, interrogated, and ultimately crushed by the secret police.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlin)
International Sales: Best Friend Forever
Subject Matter: Moderate – Politics, History
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Very Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
After being impressed by Aferim! (2015), Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude has been in my radar in the last few years. His latest, Uppercase Print, which world-premiered in the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival, may very well be one of his most challenging films to see.
It is easier to appreciate the filmmaker’s intention than his execution, which will test the patience of even the most hardened experimental-arthouse cineaste.
Jude’s austere film employs what might be called the technique of structural juxtaposition—where two different styles of filmmaking in both content and form are intercut with each other to produce an effect—and in this case the effect here is to make the viewer adopt an objective reflective stance, by mode of engagement with its methods of investigation.
It sounds like a theoretical experiment—and perhaps it is—but it is difficult to always be on its wavelength.
Uppercase Print brings us back to 1980s Communist Romania with its dissection of a case of a schoolboy who chalk-wrote several anti-establishment messages in public, and who became the subject of authoritarian interrogation, and eventually suppressed into the black hole of his nation’s dark history.
Intercutting between archival footage from state-controlled television (some of which are advertisements, news reports, documentary footage, filmed theatre, music videos, etc.) with Brechtian style enactments of the boy’s (and his family’s and friends’) encounter with the ‘Securitate’, or the Romanian secret police, Uppercase Print tells of a time of oppression and propaganda, and also its symptoms of injustice and cruelty.
But to subject the viewer to two hours of all of these is no joke—I watched the film in three separate parts and it was still a struggle.