Romanian Film Series

Trinity Term saw a series of six weekly film screenings with the arresting title of A Bank Robbery to Remember. Political Violence and Cinematic Imagination in Romania and Beyond, expertly presented and introduced by Dr Adina Brădeanu of the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford and DocWest (Centre for Documentary and Experimental Film, University of Westminster).

In 1959 there occurred in Bucharest a quite remarkable event for Communist Romania: a bank robbery. The perpetrators were a group of Jewish intellectuals all but one of whom had held positions of importance under the Communist regime. More remarkable still was the fact that the Securitate (the Romanian political police) decided to make a documentary reconstruction of the event and the subsequent trial (the first film shown in the series, Reconstituirea 1960) in which the culprits were persuaded — under the false impression in all but one case that they would avoid the death penalty — to play themselves.

Subsequent screenings showed a series of films from the early 2000s, made in Romania, Canada, and the USA, each approaching this case from a different perspective and retelling the original story with a distinct aesthetic vocabulary. One of these, Reconstruction (2001), was presented in person by the film-maker, Irene Lusztig of the University of California at Santa Cruz, whose grandmother had been the sole woman involved in the robbery. The final film shown was The Reenactment, by Lucian Pintilie (1970), a classic of Romanian cinema obliquely informed by the original event.

The series provided a fascinating opportunity to discuss and reflect on the 1959 bank heist as an exceptional expression of political disenchantment, and to explore its significance for a better understanding of political violence at the end of Romania’s so-called ‘obsessive decade’ and the repercussions of the original film for Romanian and international cinema.

– Professor Martin Maiden

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