Opening Sequence : December 22nd 2005. Dawn. Small rural town in Romania, East of Bucharest. Succession of stationary shots in various places.All the lampposts turn off. On the monumental townhall square with the illuminated christmas tree. On a quiet hill with inexistant traffic. In a desertic social housing lane. By an old man's window, who ritualy taps with impatience on the table until the
light dies, and swallows his soup, back to us.This scene introduces an improbable allegory brought up later, and will bookend the full day of this story. A peaceful, contemplative visit across town before everyone wakes up.
Structured in two parts, this bureslesque and gentle critique of the post-Iron curtain Romanian society first introduce the interlaced lives of Manescu, Piscoci and Jderescu through the habits and problems of simple people. Hangover remorses, loans and debts, christmas trees and Santa Claus costumes, firecrackers jokes, neighbor clashes... Intimate scenes with tender banality observing the struggling humanity of proud characters within their very social environment, at home with their wife, at the pub, at school, in the street.This lucid derision reminds of the wry social humour of Kieslowski and more recently, Christi Puiu's riveting The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, also from Roumania. The second part unfolds over a real-time sequence of this history talk show on TV, hosted by Jderescu, a middle-aged TV producer very much fond of his screen persona.
On the anniversary day of Ceausescu's demise, three men debate on local TV show whether the street protests started before or after 12:08, time when the end of the communist dictatorship was proclaimed on TV. Viewers call seem to contradict the heroic version presented by the guests. The literal title means "Was it or was it not?", a question repeated tirelessly until someone can prove there was a popular revolution in their town, alike the ones in Timisoara and Bucharest. Were the people that brave or did the alcoholic selective memory altered the perception of this euphoric and confusing liberation?
A chinese shopkeeper, victim of racists comments, will nonetheless shed an outsider look on this silly quibble in particular and on the Romanian people in general. "You Romanians should stop insulting/accusing eachothers!" Ironically the disgraceful absence of heroism is complacently clouded by a nitpicky reconstitution of crucial minutes around the official capitulation. Evidently this rally wasn't anything like the bloodbath of the French Revolution, subtly referenced twice in the film. Emphasizing the absurdity of pseudo-minutiae accuracy (timeline mockery by anonymous liars fortunately invisible at the othe end of the phone line), the serious of this debate seems to be the only way for them to grab some local glory from the national uprising.
This low-budget channel is totally burelesque. The cameraman trainee can't frame right and has "cinéma-vérité" aspirations. Awkward shots and clumsy zooms, the filmmaker enjoys to give us a faulty camerawork, shaking the cinema widescreen like an amateur homevideo. The effect is hilarious and contributes to embarass the protagonists and lighten up their "grave" discussion. Jderescu, the owner and star anchor, struggles to give some professional dignity to the program, while his bored friends fold or tear paper on air.
A remarkable debut film, of modest but talented ambition, supported by the Cannes Cinéfondation at the Festival Residence. Selected at the Director's Fortnight, won the Camera d'Or (Best debut film) at Cannes 2006.
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