Kino Lorber // 2010 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // August 8th, 2013
"Marx and Lenin have taught us that anything is ethical, so long as it is in the interest of the proletarian class and its world revolution."â€"-Nicolae Ceaușescu
On March 22, 1965, Nicolae Ceaușescu was elected as the General Secretary of the Socialist Republic of Romania. For the next 25 years, Ceaușescu would increasingly prove to his people and to the world that he belonged at the elite level of repressive dictators. During his reign, which could only end in front of a firing squad, he unleashed one of the most oppressive regimes that Europe had ever seen, a group that includes some impressively oppressive regimes.
At the end of the 1960s, as leftist politics swept the world, Ceaușescu started out fairly popular, taking diplomatic tours of the US, France, and England and soaking up the praise. Quickly, though, he tightened his hold on his people until, finally, starving his people by exporting all their agriculture and medicine to pay the government's debt. By then, the only people who still respected him were Kim Il-sung and Mao Zedong, on whom he based his own brand of personality cult. After he ordered the military to fire upon his own people, then, nobody was surprised or sad to see him hunted and shot dead.
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the three-hour representation of Ceaușescu's time in power, is an intense and amazing feat of editing. Director Andrei Ujica (Out of the Present) and editor Dana Bunescu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) poured over thousands of hours of footage taken from propaganda reels, national archives, and home movies to assemble a massive, daunting look at the rise and fall of a dictator.
Ujica uses no outside perspective in the film, no narrator or talking head of any kind. By simply cutting together the raw footage and letting it play, he creates a rather extraordinary historical document. With footage from speeches, diplomatic events, and family vacations, we see him at his most bloviating and most personable, as well as just how bad he was at volleyball. While very funny, it may seem trivial to show some of that stuff, except that it adds a human side to the monster everybody knows him as and it offsets the footage of him glad handing Nixon and basking in a celebration for him, North Korea style. Though people might not want to hear about the man behind the evil, it's important to giving an accurate and neutral portrait.
The length of The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, as well as the frequent lack of sound, might give the movie a limited audience, but it's a phenomenal piece of history that anybody with even a shred of interest in the subject should see. Unflinching, often bold, and sometimes very funny, this is one of the strongest portraits of a political figure that I've ever seen.
Kino Lorber has released a very standard issue DVD for The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu, but one that fits the bill. Because of its decades of archival footage, the image quality varies with every clip. Overall, the transfer looks sharp, but there is plenty of damage to the original sources, making it understandably limited. The sound is varied, especially given that much of the footage is silent, and the speeches definitely have their share of background noise to contend with. Again, it's an understandable problem, but one that's definitely there. The only extras are a trailer and a bit of DVD-ROM info that gives a who's who in Ceaușescu's life.
It's an acceptable disc, but The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu probably deserves a little more on the supplement side than it received. Still, if you have the patience for it, this is an amazing document and a historical treasure.
Ceaușescu got what he deserved, but his autobiography is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Romanian)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Educational Content
* Official Site