Layers of reality
by Vladan Petkovic
30/06/2011 - Gabriel Achim’s debut feature film Adalbert's Dream [trailer, film focus] had its Romanian premiere at the Transylvania International Film Festival in Cluj recently. This multilayered satire, set in Ceausescu’s time, elicited reactions ranging from disappointment to puzzlement to praise, which is understandable if one takes into account the fact that the film was largely shot on VHS and deals with perception of reality on several levels.
Adalbert’s Dream opens with the most important event in the history of Romanian football: on May 7, 1986 Steaua Bucharest won its first and only European Champions Cup against FC Barcelona, when the legendary goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam stopped four consecutive penalty kicks. As the opening credits roll, we are watching a VHS recording of the TV broadcast of the match – there is no triumphant celebration, fireworks nor display of Romanian national pride, there’s only the victorious Duckadam and desperate Barcelona stars. This approach perfectly sets the scene for the film's toned-down technical execution.
The hero Julian Ploscaru (Gabriel Spahiu) had recorded the game on his VCR, and it will be the main theme of conversation between him and the other characters – his kids, his wife (Alina Burzunteanu), his mistress Lidia (Ozana Oancea) and his boss (Doru Ana), despite the fact that the Chernobyl disaster had happened just two weeks earlier and is still very much present both in individual and collective awareness. Julian works in the safety department of a hardware factory, and as an aspiring amateur film-maker he is in charge of filming re-enactments of work-related accidents on an 8mm camera, a common practice at the time, serving both as a document for authorities and a training tool for his colleagues.
But, however deliriously happy the Romanians are because of the unexpected football victory, May 8 is the Communist Party's anniversary and even Steaua’s triumph is credited to Ceausescu. As the celebration of the anniversary approaches, with Julian’s factory set to hold its own event in honour of the party, everyone is on the edge because any little thing could go wrong, embarrass the workers’ collective and, much worse, lead to repercussions from the authorities. This is a cause for a series of humorous scenes, and particularly hilarious dialogue set-pieces, often filmed in a single, dynamic shot, as Julian and his fat boss, who has hypertension (a communist factory director stereotype) attempt to resolve both trivial and crucial issues. The film ends in a work-related accident which, when re-enacted for documentation by the boss, workers and Julian, actually happens again - thus creating a vicious circle which can be interpreted as a paradigm of Romania under Ceausescu.
Adalbert’s Dream is a film for multiple viewings. Its many 'meta-filmic' aspects, such as re-enactments shot on 8mm, Julian’s 'artistic' documentary about Lidia who lost her eye in a work-related accident (largely her own fault, as the boss points out), and actual 35mm slides of freak accidents scattered throughout the movie, show the discrepancy between reality and perception of reality in a country that's under the omnipresent rule of Europe’s most hard-core dictator. Even a rare moment of national pride, Steaua’s almost unbelievable victory, gets snubbed under the weight of ideology which shows its true nature: it doesn’t matter if you’re Romanian, it only matters that you obey. Formally, the VHS footage in this film has the same function 8mm films had had in the prime of VHS: association with past times, whether happily nostalgic or painful.
Shot on VHS, 8mm, 35mm and RED, Adalbert’s Dream was co-produced by Green Film and 4 Proof Film, with support from Romanian National Film Centre (CNC), with the budget of €600,000. The international rights are handled by Green Films.