Let’s get something out of the way. Despite what the title may lead you to assume, this film is not about the infamous action star with the luxurious beard (underneath which there is no chin, only another fist) single-handedly roundhouse kicking his way through the assembled forces of the Red Menace. Anyway, that film already exists in the form of Invasion USA and it is glorious.
No, it’s actually a documentary about the lengths the Romanian people living under the Communist regime (sorry, socialist republic) of Nicolae Ceaușescu in the 1980s had to go in order to watch some films. However, the aforementioned tale of Gawd-bless-‘murica, with its wanton destruction and duelling bazookas, is precisely the kind of movie that the citizens of the Orwellian nation rejoiced in being able to watch.
Information was continually repressed and the only media legally available was on the nation’s single TV channel, which was “as terrible as the food you could find” (all in all, it sounds not entirely dissimilar to how North Korea is perceived today). To counter this, a one-man film smuggling operation brought banned films into the country where they were dubbed, copied and distributed amongst the people, their tales of lone men standing against overwhelming forces striking a chord with the oppressed populace in a way they could with few others. Being able to watch a film was an event, and the home of any person fortunate enough to own a video player would become a community focal point, particularly in the dirt-poor concrete tenement buildings.
Clips from dozens of films in their dubbed form illustrate the points of the talking head interviewees, along with dramatisations of their tales and memories. The main story largely focuses on Irina Nistor, a translator who worked in a governmental department dedicated to censoring imported media and producing propaganda. Her bilingual skills led to her recruitment by smuggler Teodor Zamfir to create the Romanian dubs, recording audio for around 3,000 films. Performing as every single character in the process, she ended up as much a part of the films as their action and for many of the viewers became a symbol of resistance to the oppression under which they were living. Knowing her only through her voice, many of them wistfully describe how they imagined her, each relating an idealised vision of femininity, ultimately turning her into a nebulous, ethereal presence simultaneously capable of being all things to all people. In keeping with such perception, Nistor remains unseen for most of the film, telling her story in voiceover while a younger actress plays her in the dramatisations.
It takes a certain talent to inject humour into a story of life under an oppressive regime, but amidst tales of persecution and repression Calugareanu manages it (such as with a pair of middle aged women describing their initial reaction to seeing Last Tango In Paris), crafting a story that’s part reminiscence, part documentary, part drama, and all fascination.
INFO: CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: ILINCA CALUGAREANU / SCREENPLAY: N/A / STARRING: IRINA NISTOR, ANA MARIA MOLDOVAN, TEODOR ZAMFIR, DAN CHIOREAN / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10