Chaos and Revolution in “The Paper will be Blue”
April 14, 2007 Leave a Comment
Bucharest. December 22, 1989. The Romanian people have risen. Communist dictator Ceausescu has fled. The Revolution is spreading through the streets. But chaos ensues. In a few days, more than 1,000 people will die, accidental victims of revolutionary fervour and personal vendettas. Romania becomes the only country in Eastern Europe to undergo a bloody revolution in order to successfully break away from the USSR.
In the early morning hours, a militia of the Ministry of Interior reaches an army roadblock. They are asked for a code message through the radio. “The paper will be blue,” they answer. While waiting for confirmation, two of the soldiers step out of the armoured vehicle to smoke a cigarette. Suddenly, machine-gun shots are heard. The two soldiers and their entire unit are violently butchered by invisible assailants. “The Paper will be Blue” begins.
Shown on Monday March 26, during the International Film Festival at Maastricht’s Lumière Cinema, “The Paper will be Blue” was sponsored by the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. PhD student Bianca Buligescu, from Romania, introduced the film to a mostly student audience.
Using a narrative device similar to the opening of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” the movie begins with the ending scene. But be reassured. I have hardly spoilt you anything. This movie is not about “what happens” but rather about “why it happens.” During an hour and a half, the audience’s job consists in figuring out why things end they way they do. And, trust me: it is not an easy task.
Radu Muntean’s breathtaking latest film is one of the many recent movies dealing with the fall of Eastern Europe’s communist regimes, of which Wolfgang Becker’s “Goodbye Lenin” (2003) is perhaps the best known. Muntean’s film depicts the chaos and confusion that enfold a revolution.
“Who is fighting who? Are they friends or foes? Aren’t they wearing the same uniform?” were some of the questions that crossed my mind while watching the film. The words of the Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung were prophetic: “The Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery. It cannot be advanced softly, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely… the Revolution is an act of violence.” Muntean agrees, although some spectators resented his constant lack of narrative clarity.
This 36 year old Romanian filmmaker has become the talk of town… all over Europe. Despite the egregious situation of Romania’s cinema industry (Romania is one of Europe’s countries with the lowest per capita cinema attendance) Muntean has managed to produce a film with modest means but with high production values.
This has earned “The Paper will be Blue” numerous awards, including first prizes for best foreign language film and best direction at the Antalya, Cottbus, Namur, Sarajevo and Locarno Film Festivals. Skilfully blending docudrama realism and dry humour, Muntean’s third feature film becomes an intimate and gripping reflection on the impact of the events of 1989. This is a particularly relevant topic for Europeans wanting to know more about Romania, now that the country has joined the EU.
According to the film website, “The Paper will be Blue” tells a story about “the loss of innocence of a whole generation and of a popular rebellion that brought out the best and the worst in us.” Based on a true story, the movie follows the comings and goings of young Costi, a member of Lieutenant Neagu’s militia, on the night of December 22. It dramatically portrays the fall of a paradigm, of a way of life. The characters of “The Paper will be Blue” are pawns trapped in the interstices of a historical hinge. And the hinge squeals.
After hearing broken broadcasts through the unit’s radio about “terrorist” attacks on the national television building, now held by anti-government forces, Costi decides to leave his unit to fight for the Revolution. Lieutenant Neagu becomes deadly afraid of being court-martialed because of Costi’s desertion. He decides to go and look for him with the three other soldiers under his command around a city full of improvised trenches and warring factions.
But Costi is not very successful. Despite all his revolutionary ardour he is arrested under suspicion of being a PLO terrorist trained by Ceausescu. It is a night of madness, in which many other episodes, at times smacking of Beckettian absurdism, follow.
Paul Maximilian Bisca, a 22 year old student from Romania specialising in globalization studies and political science this semester at Maastricht University, shares with me some of his memories of the Revolution. He was only four at the time, but the memories remain fresh in his mind. “It was very, very warm that December” says Paul, echoing Lieutenant Neagu, who in the movie exclaims: “Had it not been for this weather we wouldn’t be having a f***ing Revolution.” Even the weather seemed to be in favour of political change.
“I remember there was machine-gun fire, and I thought it would be friends of mine playing outside. I have this image of my parents glued to the TV,” Paul continues . The Revolution, indeed, was televised. As “The Paper will be Blue” shows, anti-Ceausescu forces took control of the television stations and turn them into a microphone to broadcast the progress of the struggle.
Millions of Romanians, like Costi’s mother and girlfriend, spent sleepless nights following the developments of the dramatic event that would lead to the democratization of Romania and its eventual rapprochement with the EU. Change could be felt in all areas of society. “At school it was very shocking” says Paul, “in a matter of days teachers stopped being ‘Comrade so and so’ and became ‘Mrs. so and so’… It was a big deal!”
It is because of its relevant historical background that the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance chose to show this film. Rally Schwachöfer, from the school’s communications department, tells me that as one of the first institutes of the type in Europe, the School trains Masters and PhD students from 25 nationalities to combine a high level of academic scholarship with leadership. The goal is to strengthen democratic governance in domestic and international organisations.
Seeking to forge a link between the arts and academia, the School is collaborating with Lumière Cinema to show movies and documentaries related to Sustainable Development, Globalisation, Trade and Development and Social Policy and Labour, key topics for the School. “The idea of the movie nights is that the content of the courses will become more vivid for the students. We want to create awareness and generate discussion about the themes covered in the movie series,” says Ms. Schwachöfer.
The free drinks in the lobby of the cinema after the movie, generously provided by the School, kept the spectators discussing the movie for a while. “The younger generations in Romania know very little about those days,” says Paul. “The director is trying to raise some important questions and bring back some of the realities of the time so that we can understand what life was like.”
Some of those realities included grim poverty and oppression, and they seem hard to imagine for a Western European audience. “The first time I saw a supermarket was in France in 1994,” recalls Paul. “I never lacked any food (though many Romanians did) but I had never seen so much food in one place. The fact that you could go and choose how many tomatoes you wanted, or how many apples… this was very remote for me”.
Paul is enthusiastic about the film: “I like it very much. People talked a lot about it in the Romanian press and I was very eager to see it. I’m glad it has been shown here, in Maastricht.”
The change originated in 1989 pushed Romania in a roller-coaster ride that finally allowed the country to enter the doors of the EU last January. Although it is too soon to assess the impact of this event, Paul feels very positive about it. “When I was in the passport control at the airport on January 3rd, I went to the long line, as I was used to. I was waiting but then I realized that I was a EU citizen and could go to the EU passport line, which was faster. It is incredible that such a small thing could feel so significant.”
Beyond the anecdotal, Paul knows how important it is for Romania to be a member country of the EU, both economically and socially. “This is Romania’s only chance,” he says cautiously. “We (Romanians) wonder what is the Romanian dimension to European integration. What can we add to Europe? We can take a lot from Europe, beginning with the budget, but what do we bring to the table?” Undoubtedly, movies like “The Paper will be Blue,” which help both Romanians and other Europeans to understand the history of the country, can be a good first step.
By Hector Pascual Alvarez
Hector Pascual Alvarez, 21, is a Spanish student enrolled at Macalester College in Minnesota (US) where he is majoring in International Studies and Theatre Arts. He is spending the first semester of 2007 at Maastricht University as part of a study abroad programme.
Romanian flag 1947 – 1989
Romanian flag with hole, as could be seen during the 1989 revolution