Tales from the Golden Age (2009) dir. by Uricara, Hofer, Popescu, Marculescu, Mungui
Starring: Diana Cavallioti, Vlad Ivanov and Alexandru Potocean
By Blair Stewart
One of the more memorable comedies to arrive in recent memory comes from an unexpected but sizable wellspring, life under a flailing Dictatorship. Returning to the same period as his tightly-strung 2007 thriller "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", writer-director Cristian Mungiu with four of his contemporaries (Hanno Hofer, Ioana Uricaru, Constantin Popescu and Razvan Marculescu) trade stories about the ass-end of Nicolae Ceausescu's three decade-long reign of Romania.
A 5-part omnibus of wry humour with one sombre detour, "Tales from the Golden Age" relates 'legends' behind a regime gone senile as the first short can attest. According to the urban myth/wild rumour/private joke that is 'The Legend of the Official Visit', a small-town is buzzing with mild terror at an imminent inspection by government cronies. The local Mayor and Secretary run about to bring cows in from the fields (there isn't that many to go around), pigeons to fly about (pigeons weren't local), fruit to be tied from trees (most goods were exported out of Romania to pay debts ) and the carnival arrives to boot (but everyone needs it's fuel).
A town must keep up its appearances during the 'Golden Age', which was the moniker for the last 15 years of Ceausescu as called by morons or cynics. This is the set-up for several epic punchlines on par with the skewering of the GDR in "Goodbye Lenin" and the burning barn scene in "The Fireman's Ball".
The other mementos passed on include a cautionary tale in apricide by a hungry copper, photographic problems posed to a propagandist when the free-world pays a visit to Bucharest,and a Bonnie and Clyde couple stealing from countrymen their hard-earned air.
While the content could have taken the route of the dour architecture surrounding it, the film mostly remains jaunty in its droll humour, as Ioana Uricara reminisced in her Q&A for the film, this is how you survived when you had nothing else.
This doesn't hold true in the sad middle, "The Legend of the Chicken Driver", which doesn't reveal its purpose until the final moments in a silent, gut-punch reaction shot by Vlad Ivanov.
Outside of this section, "Tales'" humour borders on the surreal of "Monty Python's Flying Circus". The script by Mungiu achieves comically what "4 Months" did dramatically, probing gaps in morality and sanity in a repressive society, and the cast and directors are happy to shovel more dirt on the years of breadlines and Securitate.
This is another triumph for Cristian Mungui and company, and I hope he can join Puiu and Porumboiu in engaging the present day of Romania as well as he has its recent past.