The Great Communist Bank Robbery: Doomed Felons Re-enact Own Crime

    Acclaimed new Romanian movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Death of Mr. Lazarescu make that country's Communist past seem a perfect laboratory of human misery. Even films set in the present tend to reflect the repressive old Ceausescu era, whose paranoid tendrils still grope forward in time. And back. This documentary relates an improbable 1959 crime story in a society where there was supposedly no crime. So shocked were Communist authorities at a brazen, daylight bank heist that, when six suspects were arrested, a mere show trial wasn't enough. Instead, the government produced a movie, a re-enactment called Reconstruction, and the actors were those same six prisoners. What was their motivation? Essentially, act or die. Not that Cold War audiences understood the movie as such; to them the conspirators were represented as mere gangsters. Yet GCBR director Alexandru Solomon fascinatingly reveals—with narration in English—that they were all former Communist Party members who fought in the Resistance during World War II, with a journalist, a professor, and even a spy among them. And the biggest secret of the hit movie Reconstruction was that all six were Jews, then forbidden to emigrate (while also being purged from the party). Some of their children, their friends, and even the secret policemen who tortured them are alive today and appear in the film. If it's surprising the latter agree to be interviewed, it's not out of guilt or atonement. This isn't a doc like Long Night's Journey Into Day, where South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission achieved some measure of peace with the past. As Solomon expertly interpolates Reconstruction with his new account, there's the disturbing sense that in Romania today, propaganda is an enduring state of mind. Though he concludes this movie with a special screening of the other for the white-haired witnesses and cops, you can guess which film they prefer.

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