Reconstituirea (1968): directed by Lucian Pintilie
The ‘reenactment‘ in question is a remake of a fight between young people, made for an educational film to teach people not to abuse alcohol. This film makes use of the device of putting film-making self-consciously at the centre of the film itself. But there is more to the camera idea than just this; primarily it seems to serve as a metaphor for the Romanian people putting on a show, a performance, in which they are made to alter the past to fit with what is supposed to be true. Thus, while actually those involved in the original fight now completely forgive each other, they are made to stand and hit each other, even if softly; the film-maker repeatedly says ‘Hit him, hit him‘, while one of the boys cannot bring himself to hit his friend, although his idiotic friend is happy to participate enthusiastically. And although they are at first told to reconstruct what originally happened, it rapidly becomes clear that they are also to alter things, and to fight more than they did in reality. One way of reading this metaphor is that it reflects the portrayal of class struggle in pre-socialist Romania, and therefore suggests that Romanians were turned against each other by the leadership, when their real conflicts were quite different and could have been resolved in another way. The idea that Romanians are turned against each other is reinforced by the climax of the film, at the end, where we see masses of Romanians essentially turned into violent animals. In the absence of the leadership, which manages to pull them together in a mass effort to benefit the leaders (symbolically, pushing the chief prosecutor’s car out of a mud puddle), the people degenerate into totally pointless violence against each other. The point seems to be that a façade of co-operation has been created, behind which lies a society of people who have been turned into subhuman, violent creatures. Moreover, the idea of the people having been conned into a false dream is reinforced by the fact that the two boys have to make the film as a ‘better alternative’ to being put in prison, but that actually making the film itself becomes torture. The intellectual who is the voice of conscience in the film thus cries out that they are being treated in an inhuman way, and that there mere fact of not putting them in prison does not justify this kind of treatment. In other words, this could easily be read as a criticism of the way in which dissent may have been met with claims that, while things might be difficult, they would be even more difficult under capitalism. There is a sense that the leadership here have saved the boys from one bad fate only to hold it over their heads and use it to torture them. The symbolism of the leadership and social structure is interesting. It is very tempting to view the chief prosecutor as representing Ceauşescu. He is the one orchestrating the performance, though he does none of it personally; he spends most of the film sunning himself by the lake, and at the end as he rides away in his car he tellingly waves like a leader to crowds of people, who wave back to him. This seems so thinly veiled as to be almost absurd. Meanwhile, the whole business of the reconstruction is managed by his agent, a military man, who may have somewhat old fashioned ways of motivating the two boys, but in the end sympathises with them and shares cigarettes with them. He seems to do what he does out of a sense of duty, even if he may disagree with it; as when he goes off on a literal ‘goose chase’, even if grumbling. This would seem to represent many of those who obeyed the leadership dutifully, perhaps out of a sense of not being qualified to question things. Finally there is the intellectual, who is there for no obvious reason, but spends the film decrying the cruelty of the whole affair, and turns out to be an alcoholic. Then, after drinking, he finally bursts, and actually makes the political metaphor completely explicit. He complains once more about the injustice of the whole thing, and is accused of being drunk; to which he responds that whenever people criticise, they are just accused of being drunk, or having an uncle in Mexico, or whatever. This is of course utterly telling. If that were not enough, he steps out of the film for a moment by saying something like ‘And do you wonder why they chose a beach hut for this? A place where people go to take their rest after 8 hours work, and they sabotage it?’, which seems to be a statement on the film itself. In other words there seems to be a further point here about the holiday setting of the film; even in the place where people get their respite from work, they have to put on a performance and are unable to be free from hypocritical demands.
The theme of sexual tension is reinforced by the girl repeatedly appearing to giggle at the circus being put on by the men, though eventually she is brought to tears when they start to really hurt each other. She seems to represent a kind of purity and innocence to which the boys cannot have access because they are imprisoned by their situation. There is also the theme of generational conflict here. Throughout, the boys would rather be doing something else; in particular, the idiotic one thinks about football, about climbing a mountain, etc. This serves to strengthen the feeling that their priorities are quite different from the older generation, which seems to be arbitrarily imposing its own aims on them.
Formally speaking, the film makes use of a few interesting techniques. One is its use of irritating sound effects; all the characters arrive to the sound of an incessant car horn, which goes on for far longer than one might expect, and only turns off in the middle of a shot in which the girl is swimming beautifully along in the lake. This serves to introduce the arrival of a ridiculous, cacophonous and in the end ugly social situation in to what is up until then a summer holiday idyll. There are other interesting uses of sound; we never really get music, except in little pieces from a radio, which are in some cases interrupted by people (e.g. the chief prosecutor) complaining about it. The sound never allows us to completely settle in; instead it jars us from any feeling of comfort and keeps us alert, while also creating a sense of realism.
It is a matter of highly disreputable concern that this sublime film directed by Lucian Pintilie is not so well unknown globally. When a great film like this remains unknown for whatever reasons what hurts the most is the fact that an opportunity has been denied to viewers to watch, understand and appreciate a rewarding film which proffers a multiplicity of interpretations. Reconstituirea is without an ounce of doubt one of the boldest East European films which challenge the repressive hegemony of a communist state albeit in a very circumspect manner. Although punishment or to be precise reeducation of two young boys remains the film’s central theme there is also some benign overlapping of many life affirming themes and situations such as first love, friendship, sacrifice, pain, suffering, indifference etc. Lucian Pintilie came into international prominence as Reconstituirea was applauded at Cannes Film festival in 1968 but as it was critical of communist party establishment, Pintilie was banned from traveling to France. This was the high price audacious film makers like him from East European countries had to pay in the past.
George Constantin (procurorul)
Emil Botta (Paveliu)
George Mihăiţă (Vuică)
Vladimir Găitan (Nicu)
Ernest Maftei (Dumitrescu)
Ileana Popovici (Domnişoara)