Film Review: The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu

This depiction of a dictator’s life is one very long, intermittently rewarding haul.

In The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, director Andrei Ucija, using a wealth of archival footage, presents a strangely oblique accounting of the Romanian dictator’s days, which seemed to have been largely full of state receptions and visits. The viewer, who must go along with Ucija’s decision to use no further illuminating narration, therefore might feel somewhat beaten into submission in a way similar to any of Ceausescu’s party members, likely inundated by much the same kind of footage, albeit hopefully used for more positive propagandistic purposes.

Thankfully, much of this found and carefully pasted together footage is mesmerizing, be it the film’s opening with Ceausescu and his wife being interrogated moments before their 1989 execution in a mock trial during which they emphatically deny and refuse to sign anything, or the opening sequence featuring the death and enormous state funeral of Ceausescu predecessor Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. Through his ever-more impressive public appearances, one sees how this slight, none-too-interesting little man with the wild cockscomb of hair became such a ubiquitous symbol of leadership.

Ceausescu’s public opposition to the Soviet Union‘s invasion of Czechoslovakia earned him the admiration and support of much of the rest of the world. The film’s list of high-ranking guest stars includes—all of them making very nice to Ceausescu—Leonid Brezhnev, Charles De Gaulle, Alexander Dubcek of Czechoslovakia, Mao Tse Tung, Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Imelda Marcos, et al.

The endless visual pageantry of sadly tacky official celebrations is intermittently punctuated by the words of the man himself, and the emptiness of his hectoring rhetoric is rather stupefying when you think of the millions of Romanians he seduced. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu, with 90 minutes or more excised to tighten it and perhaps a cleverly antic music score, might even drolly play like a modern comic version of Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Or, better yet, watch this in tandem with the delightful Tales of the Golden Age, which has all of the joyous cinematic verve that’s so much easier to respond to.