By Don Simpson | October 6, 2011
Director: Andrei Ujica
Rendered in the artistic fashion of a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu features a magnificent and poetic montage of archival footage about Romania’s fallen ruler Nicolae Ceausescu. Autobiography begins on the final day of Ceausescu’s life, with television footage of him and his wife undergoing a hastily organized two-hour court session prior to their execution on Christmas Day 1989. From there, director Andrei Ujica’s documentary delves into a rich archival array of propagandistic footage with a recurring theme of pomp and circumstance as it chronicles Ceausescu’s reign as the Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party (1965-1989) and Romania’s head of state (1967-1989).
Ceausescu’s reign started off promising with an open policy towards Western Europe and the United States (thus deviating from the other Warsaw Pact states during the Cold War); he even actively and openly condemned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the other Warsaw Pact forces. Romania was also the first Communist nation to join the International Monetary Fund and to receive a US President (Richard Nixon); Ceausescu was knighted by the Queen of England and received warmly by the leaders of France, Japan, China, North Korea among others.
While Ceausescu’s cult of personality flourished, his regime evolved into the most brutal and repressive Stalinist regime in the Soviet bloc. Romania rapidly plunged into mass poverty as the population swelled. His draconian social programs banned the use of contraception thus leading to child abandonment, botched abortions and countless AIDS/HIV-infected orphans. Mothers of at least five children were entitled to extensive benefits; mothers of at least ten children were declared heroines by the Romanian state. Ceausescu also decreed that marriages could only be dissolved in exceptional cases. Then, in 1971, Ceausescu delivered a speech — known as the July Theses — before the Executive Committee of the PCR that launched a Neo-Stalinist offensive against cultural autonomy and returned Romania to the strict guidelines of Socialist Realism. Strict ideological conformity in the humanities and social sciences was demanded and culture became an instrument for political propaganda and anti-revisionism.
Ujica sculpted this documentary from over 1,000 hours of archival footage. Eschewing any use of voice-over commentary, the sound in Autobiography is reconstructed in almost Godardian fashion. The end result is not really a documentary, but rather a well-edited compilation of newsreel footage that was partially sanctioned by the Romanian government.