A documentary covering the rise of a black market operation that eventually sparked the uprising that brought down Romanian Communism. What was their merchandise? Drugs? Weapons? No, something far more powerful; films.
It’s safe to say that living under Communism is no fun. Karl Marx envisioned it as everyone getting what they needed but, in reality, it never worked out that way. The whole process had a way of stopping at stage one; the state seizing control of everything. Every time; it was uncanny.
The powerful message that Chuck Norris vs Communism delivers, over the course of its run-time, is that it is a single idea that topples dictatorships; the idea that ‘things don’t have to be this way.’ You don’t question your restricted, impoverished life if you don’t realise that life can be better than that. Sometimes it comes from food shortages; the sheer gnawing hunger forces a population to accept that the current system doesn’t work. In Romania, it came from watching illegally imported western films.
The documentary covers the activities of state television translator Irina Nistor as she covertly dubbed illegally imported films for a certain ‘Mr. Zamfir’. Eventually, Teddor Zamfir’s black market operation would make him one of the most powerful men in the country; supplying films even to high ranking party members. Meanwhile, Irina’s dubbing efforts would make her voice a powerful symbol of hope for the many Romanians covertly watching these films.
The film switches seamlessly between interviews with people who lived through those times (including Irina and Zamfir themselves) and actors depicting events being discussed. There’s a power in subtlety; the contrast between the dimly lit scenes and the brightly lit clips of the movies they watched, is a powerful way of communicating the ideological blackout Romanians lived in until 1989. Several interviewees admit that many of them watched these films more to get glimpses of other places and ways of life than for the action scenes.
As the documentary eventually shows, it was these glimpses of a better life that was the driving force behind the 1989 revolution.
Chuck Norris vs Communism’s greatest strength is that the structure of the documentary doesn’t pull focus away from the story it is trying to tell. The interviewees are all people who lived through the final era of Romanian Communism. There are no experts giving their opinion and putting it in an international context. There are just ordinary people explaining how something as simple as a fresh perspective robbed a harsh regime of its power.
And this is good, because it matches the lesson being considered by the documentary. Irina, as well as all those who gathered in secret to watch the films, did not have some grand plan of revolution. They were simply engaging in small, private acts of rebellion. But these small acts added up and ended up changing the fate of an entire nation. Sometimes the big picture isn’t as important as all the people who make it up.
Certificate: Not yet rated
Director: Ilinca Calugareanu
Running Time: 80 minutes