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DIRECTOR INTERVIEW - ALEXANDRU SOLOMON - BBC Four
Friday 7 May 2004
BBC Four: Do you have any personal theories about why the robbery happened, or the events surrounding it?
Alexandru Solomon: As the film unfolds, I tried to explore all the possible theories. But in the end, it is more important to understand there is no ultimate truth left after 45 years of propaganda. Besides, to me, there is no logical explanation. As I say in the commentary I think despair leads people to the kind of gestures that aren't logical at all. One theory that I would stick to is that these people were so desperate that their choice was to make such a spectacular event happen, as a way to express their protest against the system. That's also exactly as the system took it, as a blow against the regime.
BBC Four: It's important to mention that the perpetrators were Jewish and their desperation you mention stemmed from anti-Semitism. Can you discuss that a little?
AS: For me, as a Romanian of Jewish origin, it was important to talk about those times. You hear so often in my country and the Eastern European countries that it was the Jews who brought Communism to Eastern Europe. It's a way to blame others than the "pure" nationals. Of course many of them did support the system, because after the fascist dictatorship there wasn't much left to support. So many Jews did support the Communists in Romania, but eventually the Communist regime turned against them. The end of the 1950s, the time of this story, is that precise moment when the Communist regime in Romania became openly anti-Semitic and nationalist.
BBC Four: How well known is the story of the robbery in Romania?
AS: It is well-known by the generation that lived it, in the 1960s. Everybody knew it. Even if it wasn't written in the press, just because of the film, everybody heard the rumours.
BBC Four: How did you find out about the story?
AS: I first heard about it from some friends of my mother's. I then started looking further into the story and found some newspaper articles about the case. Then I saw the archive film, which is probably the main thing that made me do my film.
BBC Four: What was it about the story and the reconstruction film that particularly appealed to you?
AS: I think it is the mixture of reality and propaganda fiction. It's also because the old reconstruction film implies the broader theme of documentary-filmmaking. Where does it start and where does it end? If you start manipulating people in a so-called documentary, what is your responsibility as a filmmaker in doing that?
BBC Four: One of the interviewees asks that question to you during the film...
AS: That's right. He said to me, "You're doing the reconstruction of a reconstruction!" In a way I'm in a position that is parallel to those making the original film. The difference is in the approach: I de-construct a reconstruction. I place the old film as a mirror in front of them to make them look at what they did. I wanted to confront them with the reality of those times and of this case, and of the whole manipulation that it generated.
BBC Four: Were their reactions to your questions what you expected?
AS: More or less. What's surprising is to see that most of the people, the ones that were part of the state and party apparatus, still hold the same convictions and beliefs that they had back then. That explains in a way why Romania is how it is today and I think that's why it's still a contemporary story.
BBC Four: Looking back on the era yourself in such detail, what light did it shed on your perception of that period? AS: I grew up at the end of the Communist regime, and the story that I'm telling is at the beginning of the Communist regime. What's amazing is that it was so easy to become a tool of manipulation and repression. I was fascinated about how this story reveals Communism as a fiction (call it utopia) imposed upon reality by all means, and mainly by force. What else is the 'Reconstruction' film? The main characters themselves were part of that system up to a point to which they started to reflect on it. They rejected it and wanted to take revenge against that system. It's an amazing period, because it shows how easy it is to get caught up in it all, and also shows a mixture of cruelty and stupidity at a certain level. If you watch the way that the investigation was led, that mixture together gives a tragi-comic dimension to it.
BBC Four: How did you approach the material? It's such a bizarre story, were you cautious about the tone of the film?
AS: It's very delicate because people died, and it's obviously tragic, but on the other hand Communism in Romania had this black humour dimension. I wanted that to be in the film because it's part of the cruelty of the system too. I think that's one of the heritages of Communism in Romania, because nobody could do anything against it, the only thing people could do was to make fun of it. I wanted that feeling to be part of the film which is why it has some strange and sarcastic moments in it.
BBC Four: What reaction do you expect from younger people in Romania to the film? AS: I hope there will be a reaction. Even if it's a bad reaction at least it's not apathy. I know that it's a difficult story to hear no matter which side you are on. It's delicate if you're an old Communist, it's delicate if you're Jewish and Romanian, it's a story that provokes and shatters many prejudices. But I think that this kind of story makes people think in a more open way, which is beneficial in a country like mine.