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Tales from the Golden Age: Beating the system in 80s Romania

A scene from Tales from the Golden Age

3 out of 4 stars


Tales from the Golden Age, the title of the new film from Cristian Mungiu, is an ironic reference to life under Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The film follows the pattern of Mungiu's 2007 Palme d'Or winner, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, taking an anecdote about the absurdities of life under a dictatorship and transforming it into drama.

There are five short films (or, in some versions, six) credited to five directors, including Mungiu, who wrote all the episodes. Though much lighter than the country's art-house fare of the past few years, the collection serves as a sampler of the much-heralded Romanian cinema.

Rather than focusing on tragedy, each "legend" focuses on a scam perpetrated by ordinary folk in order to subvert absurd official policy in the Romania of the 1980s.

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One story, oddly evocative of Waiting for Guffman, is about a village trying desperately to spruce itself up for the impending visit of a Communist Party official, including washing their cows and trying to select which pigeons are on view. The final image, when the village is ordered to take a Ferris wheel ride (including the ride operator), becomes a metaphor for the unstoppable government machine.

In another tale, official party photographers are responsible for ensuring that Ceausescu not be seen doffing his hat to a foreign dignitary, leading to a pre-Photoshop botch-up that produces ridiculous results.

Two stories focus on food shortages: A long-haul truck driver finds a reason to open his truck full of chickens and discovers that the eggs provide an entry to romance; a policeman gets a live pig as a gift before Christmas and decides that the best way to avoid having his hungry neighbours find out is to quietly kill the animal by gassing it.

In the liveliest story, a young couple, inspired by a Bonnie and Clyde video, come up with a scam to collect bottles for money by claiming that they are "air inspectors."

Though individual directors are not identified, and styles range, Mungiu's own mixture of black humour and melancholy pervade the various episodes. Though the threat of exposure and incarceration lurk behind every story, the characters' ingenuity and humour serve as impudent alternatives to authoritarian stupidity and brutality.

Tales from the Golden Age

  • Directed by Cristian Mungiu, Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu and Constantin Popescu. 
  • Written by Cristian Mungiu
  • Classification: NA

Tales from the Golden Age opens at Toronto's Bell Lightbox on Thursday, at Calgary's Plaza on Friday and at Vancity in Vancouver on Oct. 22. The DVD will be released next week.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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