Romanian Film Review – Life through a lens: The Man With Thousand Eyes

Alexandru Solomon is one of the sharpest contemporary Romanian filmmakers, an intelligent, eloquent documentarian whose films are, without exceptions, revelatory.

A brilliant ‘detective’ and gifted story-teller, Solomon takes social and historical facts, some of them almost unknown, and reveals them in thrilling, eye-opening features.

Whether it’s stories involving legendary radio station Free Europe (Cold Waves), the spectacular robbery of the National Bank in 1959 (The Great Communist Bank Robbery), the hair-rising disclosures about Romania’s wealthiest business men (Kapitalism: Our Improved Formula), or the life of a stray dog (A Dog’s Life), Solomon’s films are though-provoking and vibrant perspectives on personal, historical, and social events.

Omul cu o mie de ochi/The Man With Thousand Eyes (2001) is less-know than his subsequent pictures but equally enthralling, the story of Josif Berman, one of Romania’s most influential photographers.

Berman was a restless observer of life at the beginning of the 20th century; he took pictures of basically everything and everyone important but was also a photographer of the underdogs and the fringes of society.

He was especially fascinated with the life in the countryside and is considered to be Romania’s first ethnographic photographer. With the onset of nationalism and racial segregation in the early 1940s, Berman, like all Jewish citizens, was forbidden to work and died soon afterwards (from a broken heart, according to his daughter) while his pictures were forgotten for decades in dusty archives.

The film combines archive footage, documentary material and fictional parts (these being the film’s only flaw, a conventional and repetitive series of scenes showing either Berman driving through Bucharest shooting, or the archives where his pictures were stored) to shed light on a man’s passionate quest to make the smallest details of everyday life visible.

Told mostly through the perspective of one of his daughters, Berman’s journey is just as captivating as the insight into journalism and photography of the 1920s and1930s.

But Solomon’s film is not only valuable for telling Berman’s story as much as telling his story as a Jew. In a country, and cinema for that matter, in which the Jewish history is very seldom talked about, The Man With Thousand Eyes is as relevant a historical document as Iosif Berman’s photographs.

The documentary is shown at Cinema Eforie in Bucharest (2 Eforie St.) today, Wednesday, at 7pm. If you can’t make it, you can also catch it on docuArt.ro, a site dedicated to documentary features.

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, [email protected]

(photo source: Wikipedia Commons)

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