On December 25, 1989, the socialist dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife Irene, were shot by a platoon of 80 soldiers, with more than 120 bullet impacts. Two days later, the Romanian Communist Party was dissolved, and the socialist dictatorship that began in 1947 ended.
Just two years later, on December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President of the Soviet Union on television from his office, with the Soviet flag in the background. Shortly thereafter, the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin. A day later, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR accepts Gorbachev’s resignation, acknowledges the disappearance of the Soviet Union and signs its dissolution.
The look of disbelief on Ceaușescu when hearing the masses protest openly against him during his last speech, is a still shocking historical document.
The fall of the Soviet Union was preceded by events in satellite countries, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany, or the collapse of the Ceaușescu regime in Romania. A large number of films that are part of the so-called “Romanian New Wave” are set during the Communist dictatorship, especially in its final stages, and explore the themes of freedom and the growth of resistance against the dictator.
Ceaușescu and Natality: 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days
4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days (2007) is a heartbreaking drama about socialist birth policies in Romania. In 1947, with the socialist revolution, contraception and abortion were legalized in Romania. With the arrival of Ceaușescu to power, and in view of the country’s low birth rate, birth control methods and the practice of abortion were strictly restricted, giving rise to one of the few baby booms in non-capitalist countries. In a short period of time, births doubled.
In this film we can see the story of a Romanian girl who decides to have a clandestine abortion. It is shot in a very realistic and sordid way, with profound rawness. In an atmosphere dominated by the oppression of a ubiquitous government, we can see the chain of corruption and depravity that is generated.
Ceaușescu’s orphanages: Children of the Decree
Because of this social engineering and economic ruin, many mothers gave their babies to orphanages. The documentary film Children of the Decree (2005) narrates the terrible lives of abandoned children in the orphanages run by the Communist state, after the approval of Decree 770 to increase the birth rate.
Physical and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition, subhuman hygienic conditions, were some of the horrors suffered by thousands of orphaned children in Romania. Although technically they were not orphans -because they had their parents alive-, they were children of Communism.
Urban legends about Ceaușescu: Tales from the Golden Age
Unlike the very dramatic examples above, this film has a more comical tone, although it is a rather dark humor. Tales from the Golden Age is a collection of 5 short films with independent stories among them, with the only link being that they are all based on urban legends from the last stage of socialist Romania.
They are stories of manners like those of some teenage swindlers who, posing as government officials, trick the neighbors of the building blocks to take water samples, and then resell the glass bottles. Or that of some censorship department officials who have to face the modification of a photograph to make Ceaușescu look taller than he was.
Although in a comical tone, the terrible consequences of the iron socialist authoritarianism of Ceaușescu can also be seen in this film.
Ceaușescu and censorship: Chuck Norris against Communism
Two of the things in which the Romanian socialist regime stood out most from other regimes were, on the one hand, fierce censorship and, on the other, the emergence of one of the most sophisticated black markets in those countries.
Chuck Norris against Communism is a documentary film from 2015 that talks about the terrible censorship of films in Romania, and explains the complex black-market network of VHS films generated.
The banning of foreign films, especially American ones, was not only related to the banning of sexual, violent or political scenes, but also to the fact that in these films you could see middle class families eating abundantly, supermarkets and stores being supplied, private cars driving on the streets, etc.
This documentary film tells the extraordinary story of Irina Nestor, a television dubber who worked for the Romanian government, but who clandestinely was a heroine of the anti-Communist resistance, secretly dedicating herself to dubbing American films on VHS into Romanian.
Irina did all the voices, all the characters, in all the films. She was Chuck Norris, Kim Basinger, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The traffic of VHS copies of these films dubbed by Irina flourished in a spectacular way all over Romania, leaving her voice burned in the memory of several generations of Romanian film lovers who wanted freedom.
31 years after the fall of the socialist dictatorship in Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romania, the world still seems lost in debates about freedom of speech, despite the terrible lessons these films leave us with about the consequences of censorship and social engineering.