I just had to see this movie when I saw the title. I mean, seriously, just look at it. Drink it in. I had no idea what the movie would actually deliver, but I was expecting, well, Chuck Norris Vs. Communism. While it doesn’t quite deliver on all that the title promises, this is another in a line of recent, wonderful documentaries that takes a look back at the heady days of the early 1980s. That golden age for film fans, when the home entertainment market exploded before many people knew just how to monitor and regulate everything that was suddenly available to appreciative viewers.
The big twist here is that Chuck Norris vs Communism is all about life in Romania during the VHS explosion. The citizens at that time were living under a Communist regime, which in turn led to them being held back from viewing the rest of the world, for fear that dissent would grow amongst the public. Movies were a window on to that world, which meant that movies were either heavily censored or simply unavailable to many people. At least that is how those in authority would have liked things. The reality was very different. A huge black market emerged, with movies becoming so important to people that they put themselves at great risk to enjoy as many as possible. And, for a huge portion of that time, all of those movies were translated/overdubbed by one person, a woman named Irina Nistor. Not to overstate the case, Miss Nistor became arguably the most important voice in Romania at that time.
Put together by Ilinca Calugareanu, a Romanian herself, although she’s now based in London, who has studied the communist and post-communist Romania, this is an enjoyable and enlightening piece of work. And it’s a great reminder of the power of movies. Cinema has had a profound effect on many people over the years, in many different ways. Whether it’s the audience reacting with fright to a train seeming to come directly at them, to the reactions to the first talkies, to the queues around the block when the blockbuster phenomenon took off, to the likes of li’l old me – enchanted by the movies in such a way that I would end up writing reviews for thousand of films over the past few years. What we have here is cinema as both a way to view the world outwith a heavy curtain and also an act of rebellion.
Featuring both talking head interviews and reconstructions of past events, covering memorable moments such as the way in which the translating/dubbing was executed, and gatherings of people paying to sit in a small room and watch a low-quality videotape together, Chuck Norris vs Communism will win you over thanks to a warming mix of nostalgia and astonishment at the growth of this (not-so-)underground network. It’s just a shame that the finale is as anti-climactic as it is inevitable (what with us knowing how history has panned out, and all that).
Oh, and I couldn’t have been the only person thinking of what a good feature film this material could make as I watched the end credits roll. Was I?
Chuck Norris vs Communism is screening at EIFF 2015 on 24th and 25th June.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: ILINCA CALUGAREANU
STARS: IRINA NISTOR
RUNTIME: 80 MINS APPROX
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