The first film I remember watching – ever – was one in which the main character is a guy dressed in white. Somehow I believe it was Alain Delon but I’m not sure what makes me believe that. And what happens is that he dies in some sort of corrida arena, not killed by a bull but by someone, someone evil. I don’t remember most of the concrete details, as you can see. What I remember is the strong impact the scene had on me, it felt like something I had to think about and I did think about it for a while. I was probably 4 or 5, film ratings were non-existent back then and and my parents, like many Romanian parents at that time, were watching films in secret, illegally smuggled into the country.
Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015, directed by Ilinca Calugareanu) is a documentary about the Western films seen in secret in communist Romania and about the lady that was translating / dubbing them – they were always dubbed by the same lady, Margareta Nistor. Chuck Norris movies to begin with, but all sorts of other action and romantic films of the 70’s and 80’s, meant more than you can imagine to people in a country with no access to any other media but the communist party affiliated ones.
A more recent and similar example of the impact of ‘outside media’ can be seen these days in North Korea, where people secretly watch episodes of Friends and all sorts of South Korean soap operas. The secret police cuts the electricity in neighbourhoods for these illegal VHS tapes to be trapped in the players, so they can raid the houses one by one and find them.
In many ways the story is well ‘revived’. Let’s acknowledge that telling a dead story like this one, dead since the 90’s, and also telling it well is not easy. The film is a mix of atmospheric re-enactments and interviews with people that tell personal stories about watching the films.
But… the link between the films and the people’s involvement in the Revolution is made ridiculously strong, and that’s somehow completely unnecessary, because the interviews and the narrative of the first 2/3 of the film is compelling enough for both a Romanian and a foreign audience.
Also, some things are also dubious in terms of how historically accurate they are. This and the link with the revolution are for sure directing and editing decisions made to make the story stronger. A foreign audience wouldn’t even question these things. I guess these choices have been made in order to make the film more exciting and appealing to a larger audience. And it’s what makes the film commercial, because it bends the notion of truth to make the film more appealing, and that would serve the story if the story was fiction. But it’s not.
To end, Chuck Norris vs Communism also reminded me of Kismet, the 2013 documentary film about how Turkish soap operas are changing the minds of women in the Middle East, making them more self aware, more demanding and more free. I wrote about this film here and you can read an AlJazeera text about it here.
And if you were born in the Western world, here’s a reminder that soap operas changed your parent’s lives too.