CEES public lecture by Cristina Vatulescu, New York University, Comparative Literature.
In 1959 five men and a woman, all young professionals of Jewish descent, as the secret police never tired to note, were accused of robbing The Romanian National Bank. Within just a few months after the bank heist, they were caught, judged, and sentenced. All sentences were speedily carried out: the men were shot and the woman was shipped to a woman’s prison, but not before all six prisoners were made to participate in a feature-length film reconstructing their crime. The film, Reconstruction (Reconstituirea, 1960), called itself “a collaboration” between the Secret Police and the State Documentary Film Studio Sahia. The secret police provided the protagonists—the criminals and the investigators, as well as the extras: for one scene, a central part of the city was temporarily evacuated and filled with over a hundred secret police agents. The film studio then provided the equipment and the know-how, in the person of some of its leading names.
Reconstruction comes to us via the second wave, the visual wave, of the truly momentous opening of the secret police archives in Eastern Europe. In the last few of years, the long ignored visual component of these archives is starting to emerge, photographs and films that we are only beginning to grapple with. We have no comprehensive view of these films, no finding aids, and often no projection capacities in the largely textual archives. So, at least for now, we need to proceed one movie at a time. While deeply rooted in the Soviet tradition, Reconstruction deserves our attention as it represents a new fulcrum point in the long, if largely forgotten, history of the collaboration between cinema and the police. Furthermore, Reconstruction is a uniquely self-conscious articulation of the relationship between the word and image, documentary and fiction film, filmed subjects and closely watched audiences. Through a side-by-side analysis of the film and the declassified files pertaining to the case, Vatulescu devises strategies to approach the filmic holdings of the former secret police archives in relationship to the textual holdings that we know more about.
Sponsor(s): Center for European and Eurasian Studies
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