Romanian film review – Look back in anger: Revision

It’s that time of the year again: the Berlin International Film Festival opened yesterday and for the following ten days, the world will stop turning, at least for film critics, industry professionals or the movie aficionados who spend hours queuing for tickets in Berlin’s proverbially cold month of February.

After taking home the Golden Bear last year, Romania is attending once again, even if not in the competition. One feature, premiering in the Forum section, is Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest. The documentary Al doilea joc/The Second Game will sure make everyone happy, including historians, VHS lovers and soccer fans.

Porumboiu, an avid soccer fan himself, re-watches together with his father, a former referee, a football match from 1988 and talks about the game and Romania shortly before the revolution.

The second Romanian entry is also documentary. Pădurea e ca muntele, vezi?/The Forest Is Like the Mountains, a co-production with Germany, traces the struggles of a Roma community at the margins of Sfântu Gheorghe.

But before I can review these brand new films, let’s get into a little warm-up with one of the highlights from past festivals.

Philip Scheffner’s Revision is a film I’ve mentioned more than once and it was definitely one of the best to watch at national film festivals this year. I am cheating a bit though because technically it’s not a Romanian feature but a German one. However, its subject matter, local involvement and sheer brilliance is more than enough for its (repeated) presence in this column.

Scheffner takes an initially unsolved case in recent German history and what he does with it is both impressive detective work and brilliant filmmaking. In 1992, two Romani illegal immigrants from Romania were found shot dead in a corn field at the German-Polish border. At the time, the case, although full of inconsistencies, was dismissed as an accident; apparently a German hunter fired his gun by mistake. Scheffner chooses a cool, clinical method of research and the entire film is all rigor, precision and emotional restraint.

His outrage over the inhumanity of a ‘democratic’ legal system is only expressed directly towards the end and when it comes, it leaves you heartbroken, speechless, and just as outraged. Revision’s ending is one of the strongest I have seen in years and I can only compare to the last scene in Polițist, adjectiv/Police, Adjective in its powerful and arresting revelations about human nature, human indifference, and institutional failings.

Revision no only uncovers the blatant legal and judicial mistakes made by the authorities by reconstructing the entire case and talking once again to all witnesses but also shows the human side of the crime by talking to the victims’ families in Romania.

And this is how the film gets its incredible impact, by juxtaposing the human side of the tragedy with institutional anonymity and complete lack of empathy. The fact that these families have only been informed by the German state about the deaths and never about the trial, its outcome and later developments, is beyond infuriating.

A passionate human rights film, a unflinching criticism of the judicial and political system in a Europe torn by xenophobia, racism, and prejudice, a brilliant case of investigative journalism, a cinematic work of art, Revision is most of all a wonderful example of the power of socially engaged filmmaking.

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, [email protected]