Premium quality silent documentary from Cannes

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As the title suggests, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu is hardly a conventional historical documentary,” writes Dennis Lim, introducing another interview for the New York Times. “Andrei Ujica‘s three-hour-plus found-footage epic, screening out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, recounts the life of the Romanian dictator as Ceausescu himself saw it — or, as was often the case, stage-managed it. Devoid of explanatory titles and voice-overs, the film assembles a composite portrait of Ceausescu solely through the existing visual record: the speeches he gave, the parades thrown in his honor, the state visits he made (to the United States, China, Britain and, most memorably, North Korea) and the home movies of family vacations and hunting expeditions.” The Voice‘s J Hoberman caught the film on the same day that he took in Olivier Assayas‘s Carlos, “an outrageous political gangster film. So too, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu… The footage of mass rallies, bogus pageants, and ceremonial visits with foreign leaders from de Gaulle to Nixon to Queen Elizabeth attests to Ceausescu’s power. No less than Carlos, Ceausescu was a criminal megalomaniac enabled by all manner of regimes. One might have to read between the lines to appreciate the technology of deception on display but one need only follow the subtitles to grasp the Romanian leader’s increasingly absurd bombast.”

This is “the third part of Andrei Ujica’s loose trilogy about the end of communism,” notes Lee Marshall in Screen. “[T]here’s something to be said for the editor/director’s technique of letting footage of party meetings and speeches run and run: the rituals of Communist power were always interminable, and a certain dose of tedium is part of the film’s point.”

“Despite the lack of an explanatory voiceover, the raw, uncontextualized footage slowly begins to accumulate a power of its own,” writes Peter Brunette in the Hollywood Reporter. “The most dramatic moment comes when a lone member of the rubber-stamp Parliament rises to complain that Ceausescu has been illegitimately plotting to remain in power. He is shouted down by a virtual unanimity of zombie politicians clapping and shouting over and over in unison for Ceausescu’s continuation as party secretary. It’s absolutely chilling footage.”

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