Tales From The Golden Age

Tales From The Golden Age


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

This film is a collection of six “legends” from the ironically titled “golden age” of Eighties Romania under the rule of Ceausescu. Like most compilation films, the quality is uneven, though all six stories were written by Cristian Mungiu, highly acclaimed for his Four Months, Three Weeks And Two Days. Here he turns his attention to comedy, the comedy of everyday behaviour in a society where everyone is aware of being under surveillance.

This is a society of food shortages and crumbling infrastructure, where black market activities thrive. To suit the ruling regime, everything must look good on the surface. This is beautifully illustrated in the first two stories, which are also the most amusing. In one, a village prepares for an official visit, sweeping and prettifying, bringing out the national costumes, learning songs and making banners. But the day ends in a most unexpected way.

Copy picture

The Legend of the Party Photographer deals hilariously with attempts to retouch a photograph of Ceausescu in pre-photoshop times in order to make him look taller than his visitor, Giscard d'Estaing.

Each segment is presented as “The Legend of… as if it were part of the folklore of communist Romania. It is fascinating to see the re-creation of life inside the Eighties apartment blocks, tiny tiled kitchens, black and white television, ugly furniture and flowery pictures pinned up on the walls.

Visually, this is convincing, as is the very basic roadside restaurant and accommodation set in stunningly beautiful countryside. How accurate it is as a picture of life under communism we can only guess. It is presented as comedy, and judged as comedy it is only partially successful. The first legend would stand alone as a very good short film. The others work less well, particularly the final tale, which doesn't seem to know quite where it's going. Some tighter direction would have helped. Possibly the intention was to allow the comedy to become darker as the tales progress, gradually revealing the grimmer side of life. But there is a half- hearted quality about some of the episodes and they are neither well shaped nor satisfying.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2010
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Life in Romania under Ceaucescu is explored in this portmanteau of urban myths.
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London 2009

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