I’m an Old Communist Hag (2013)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Making Waves Romanian Film Festival, which runs from December 4 to December 8. For more information visit FilmLinc.com and follow FilmLinc on Twitter at @FilmLinc.
I’m an Old Communist Hag is a populist delight that played like gangbusters to the local audience at TIFF Romania back in June. But the movie’s crowd-pleasing capacity oughtn’t to be mistaken for an indication of levity, and if it’s the quick-fire laughs that give it its fun, it’s the deeper issues they give way to that make it a film that lingers. As the adult daughter returned from exile in America remarks “they’re still talking about Ceaușescu and communism?”, so too might international audiences say the same of the country’s cinema; here is a film to both continue the trend and effectively argue its essentiality now more than ever.
A fittingly about-faced follow-up to Child’s Pose, this is Gheorghiu at her sweetest and most affectingly maternal…
“Everyone is waiting,” her father says of the inertia of the property market. “What the hell are they waiting for?” It’s a sentiment that echoes through the movie’s deft navigation of the modern Romania, filtered evenly through the fond memories of ex-party member Emilia—respectively mother and wife to the aforesaid characters—and the tangible frustrations of her life in the rubble of economic collapse. She is played by Luminita Gheorghiu in yet another furtherance of her phenomenal filmography, which might easily be mistaken for a rundown of the best of recent Romanian cinema. A fittingly about-faced follow-up to Child’s Pose, this is Gheorghiu at her sweetest and most affectingly maternal, a diametric accompaniment to that earlier movie that keenly attests her remarkable talents.
The same could be said of the comic muscles she flexes here, pressed to the fore for the first time—at feature length, at least—since her breakthrough in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. The dynamic she shares with her on-screen husband Marian Ralea is magnificent, all loving ripostes and affective—if exhausted—exchanges. They serve the zippy dialogue on a silver platter; director Stere Gulea can scarcely have imagined his script, co-written with Vera Ion and Lucian Dan Teodorovici, could come across so hilarious. But to every out-loud laugh—and there are many—there’s an intake of breath at the duelling dramatic aspirations at play. One scene, between Gheorghiu and Valeria Seciu—as good here as in The Walk, the competition short she carries—as a neighbour whose experience of the old days was as different as can be, is a meeting of talent so terrific you wish it would go on for days.
But the movie seems to last only minutes, courtesy of the pleasant pace of Gulea’s plotting and the comedy that carries it from scene to scene. His is a direction to avoid attention-grabbing showiness in favour of restraint that services the material without stealing the spotlight, as in one terrific slow-move shot that quietly communicates both the relationship between the characters it frames and the economic circumstances in which it exists. If there’s a misstep among his efforts, it’s in Gheorghiu’s voiceover, an effect so intermittent it surprises every time, and the digitally-grainy flashbacks to her earlier years it narrates, an awkwardly on-the-nose accentuation of ideas already apparent in abundance.
I’m an Old Communist Hag is every inch a film for its time, exploring anti-establishment anger and the new age nostalgia that’s rife in the wake of capitalism’s failing.
Still, the laboured point is proof of the intent to ensure these innumerable gags do more than just tickle the ribs: I’m an Old Communist Hag is every inch a film for its time, exploring anti-establishment anger and the new age nostalgia that’s rife in the wake of capitalism’s failing. When Ralea predicts “with this financial crisis going on, you can be sure they’ll return”, he might mean Romanian cinema to the past as much as the party to power: the new wave found fame in its cathartic engagement with a nation’s latent trauma; if this latest film to ride it is any indication, it’s never been so necessary—or so popular—to return again.
If it’s the quick-fire laughs that give I’m an Old Communist Hag its fun, it’s the deeper issues they give way to that make it a film that lingers.