Bloc capitals: Romania’s rebel street artist
Radu Jude’s Uppercase Print offers a careful and original consideration of political oppression
26 February, 2021 — By Dan Carrier
Serban Lazarovici in Uppercase Print
Directed by Radu Jude
HOW a totalitarian state feels threatened by and deals with a small act of defiance is at the heart of Radu Jude’s interesting and original historical piece.
It tells the true story of a teenager who chalked anti-government slogans on walls – prompting a manhunt whose scale lays bare just how paranoid Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime was.
Jude has previously explored the recent history of Romania, and peered into the world created by the dictator, and this film adds to his previous works by drawing on an incident that acts as an example of the ludicrous nature of crime, punishment and of political free will.
Stating things like “We are sick of waiting in endless queues,” “Solidarity to the Polish workers,” “We demand Justice and Freedom,” the words, temporary in creation and vague in their meaning, tweaked the tail of the Romanian authorities and they set out to find and punish the culprit.
Using a mixture of archive footage and actors using transcripts of security service reports and interviews, we follow the story of how the slogans came about, and how the police sought to catch and deal with their creator.
Botosani was a typical industrial city in Romania. It is 1981, and the Soviet Bloc and similar regimes are experiencing serious strains: in Poland the steel and shipyard workers are organising themselves, and the sense of change is not lost of those suffering under Ceaușescu.
Mugur (Serban Lazarovici) comes from a nondescript family of faithful workers. He needs an outlet for adolescent rebellion, and the state provides an obvious target.
A detective (Bogdan Zamfir) uses Mugur’s fearful neighbours to find him, and brings the boy – along with anyone he happens to be in contact with – in for interrogation. The story has shades of Hans Fallada’s Alone In Berlin, about an elderly couple who left postcards around the city imploring war-weary Berliners to rise up against Hitler.
It also chimes with other considerations of 20th-century totalitarianism – George Orwell on Spain and 1984, Arturo Barea’s autobiographic trilogy Forging of a Rebel, Arthur Kosetler’s Darkness at Noon and Dialogue with Death.
It shows how a paranoid state felt small acts of rebellion deserved an absolute and complete response.
Jude explores a Romania disappearing in the collective memory. He has trawled through footage to splice together a convincing vision of life under Ceaușescu.
Actors reproduce the testimonies of those who saw the chalked letters, and their evidence is delivered in those stilted tones people use when they are petrified of authority.
Uppercase Print offers a careful and original consideration of political oppression, and yet manages to celebrate a culture that survived under oppression.
It makes for an interesting and original piece of social history.