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“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu,” reviewed

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu,” reviewed (photo)

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We perceive documentaries as records of truth; these things happened, the camera recorded them. “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” is a record of a lie. Yes, these things happened, and yes, the camera recorded them. But why did they happen and how? And what was going on when the camera wasn’t around? Because of its unusual structure, the film doesn’t say. But attentive viewers will realize this “autobiography” presents an incomplete view of history.

It comes from the perspective of Nicolae Ceausescu, Communist dictator of Romania from 1967 to 1989. A man with a taste for the spotlight, Ceausescu rarely missed an opportunity for a photo opportunity, and he filled his nation’s official archive with hundreds upon hundreds of hours of himself at work and play. The footage is extensive but not comprehensive: lots of speeches and meetings with foreign heads-of-state, occasional travels abroad or hunting expeditions, but no mentions of food shortages or public demonstrations against his regime. Director Andrei Ujica screened all of it and assembled this three-hour film. There is no voiceover and no interviews with experts or historians, just 180 minutes of a life lived inside this impenetrable bubble of peace, prosperity, and propaganda. If you had no outside knowledge of Romanian history, you might be taken by surprise when Ceausescu’s end comes, seemingly out of nowhere. From his insanely warped perspective, he was a great leader caught in a sort of modern day Greek tragedy. Near the end of “The Autobiography,” after Ceausescu’s been deposed, he responds to the allegations that he ordered the execution of protestors by insisting “What you’re saying is all lies, mystifications, provocations!” One of the most interesting things about “The Autobiography” is the fact that it suggests Ceausescu not only fabricated his own reality, he bought into his own self-inflating mythology as completely as anyone else. This guy didn’t just read his own press clippings, he shot footage of himself reading his own press clippings and smirking while a bunch of lackeys stood around applauding.

Of course, beyond the boundaries of Ujica’s frame were real tragedies which afflicted the people of Romania for decades. But Ceausescu’s Communist media machine didn’t record them, so they don’t appear in the film. Aside from one very vocal critic who pipes up to protest Ceausescu impending reelection in front of Congress and is quickly and aggressively shouted down, there isn’t a single voice of dissent in the entire movie. Instead, we watch the small cracks begin to form in the facade of Ceausescu’s carefully constructed fantasy world. The crowds for his public appearances start to thin out. They still applaud for him, but not so intensely. Some of the sequences are just surreal. On a visit to California, fabricated realities collide when Ceausescu tours the backlot at Universal Studios. He appears to be taking very careful mental notes.

Ujica’s film is a major accomplishment for historians and documentary scholars and it is a powerful indictment of politically manipulated media. At three hours it’s also really, really long. Occasionally, I grew a little weary of the endless parade of contextless footage of dignitaries and state functions. With my limited knowledge of Romanian history, and without a narration or intertitles to guide me, I’m sure a lot of Ujica’s subtler points went right over my head. I began to believe the director could have made his point just as powerfully in half the runtime. But upon further consideration, the size of the movie reflect the size of its subject’s ego. Both are a little bloated.

“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” opens today in New York City. If you see it, tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…