Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev made a strange film two days ago: ‘Elena’ (that won an award at Cannes). An everyday contemporary story, which however took place in a tense atmosphere, even apocalyptic as intended by the director. A modest woman commits a crime that remains undiscovered (‘white,’ we could say, as she subtly administers a medicine not recommended to someone suffering from a heart disease), killing her second husband, a rich man, to avoid the sudden writing of a will that would have disinherited her. The movie alternates the images of the old man’s spacious and luxurious suite with those of the cramped and modest apartment inhabited by the woman’s son, a slacker who still lives on his mother’s money. The final scene shows the apparently discreet ‘invasion’ of the luxurious suite by the profiteering ‘slackers.’
Here is a very symbolic situation, which expresses an eternal injustice of history: by resorting to shady schemes, some take profit from others’ achievements. The declared intention of the Russian director was to describe the mute horror that corresponds to a phenomenon which he considers as specifically contemporary: the disappearance of the border between good and evil. The main character of the film is a devoted, even pious mother (she prays in a church, to the icons, before committing the murder) that sacrifices her conscience for her socially ‘underprivileged’ son. But, by carefully looking through history, we will notice that on many occasions ‘good’ hid much ‘evil.’ Or, better said, the good of some was based on the evil others had to endure.
Aristotle said that the purpose of politics is to cultivate friendship. At least in a ‘city.’ Like many ‘cities,’ the Romanian one, too has things going differently. Some paid a price too high for the ‘happiness’ of the others. We should also remember this on the anniversary day of the nation. At least an ounce of repentance. We are proud today for Michael the Brave having the prophetic vision of a politically united nation (which remains disputable, as some historians see the Wallach ruler only as an ambitious adventurer), but we forget that he is responsible for the aggravation of the – already difficult – social status of peasants. He, like many others, does not deserve too much the pretentious title of demophile ruler, at least not in our modern understanding.
Centuries later, at the peak of the capitalist epoch, the Romanian liberals, proud with their slogan ‘On our own!’ were tempted no less than others to neglect the status of the proletarians hired by the new industries. A status that was often totally unenviable. Let’s also remind the system of cruel agricultural tenants, in effect at the time of decadence of large agricultural properties, which led to a number of dramatic revolts. In its turn, religion (here Zvyagintsev had a correct intuition) was on many occasions nothing more than a method to appease guilty consciences. First, due to a specific theology, the Orthodoxy supported authoritarianisms for centuries. Second, the religious competition gave birth to specific acts of injustice. The Greek-Catholics, for instance, with a decisive role in the formation of the modern nationalist ideology, through the emphasis laid on the Latin character of the language and people, thrived in modern Transylvania to the detriment of Orthodox believers, who were persecuted in a discriminatory Habsburg empire. Then came the turn for the Orthodox faith to profit from political conjectures, by taking over churches and believers when the communist state banned Greek-Catholicism. The communist regime was the best example of blatant historic injustice: penitentiary labour camps, intellectuals turned into proletarians, a whole society under ideological terror, a profiteering nomenclature. Let’s not forget the minorities, which experienced directly in the ‘Greater Romania,’ the effects of the nationalist policy, first in the interwar years, then post WW2 (with the interlude of the first years of communism, when they were positively discriminated). For several years, the Jews were deprived of their wealth (it was the era of the so-called ‘Romanisation commissions’), some of them even were deported. The ethnic Germans were ‘sold’ in the last years of communism, leaving behind their homes. The post-communist politics brought new acts of injustice. First, the new left pushed towards emigration the young protesters of the ‘Revolution’ years, traumatised by the terror maintained by the punitive expeditions of miners and by the Iliescu-type anti-western attitude. Then, corruption took momentum and stabilised for two decades (until today), so social injustice is constantly acute.
We cannot be naive, the human condition is unjust. And each historic epoch has its social victims. Nonetheless, we must differentiate. Too many reparatory backlogs lay behind the festive rhetoric. In order to better see the truth, let’s take the example of another recent film, now a Romanian one. ‘The Japanese Dog’ tells the story of an expedition in the contemporary Romanian cinematographic landscape, with predilection for the urban world – ‘the rural life’ of an old man. Shortly after he lost his wife, then his home in a flood, the old man survives by himself. His son emigrated many years ago and was maintaining only distant relations with his father. The old man does not live such a bad life, as he received – after several months of dwelling in various places – an honourable house abandoned by others, while a retroceded plot of land is already coveted by a buyer. The rural summer picture, even in a remote village, is idyllic and fellow villagers are not deprived of that solidarity specific to small communities. While he was paying a short visit to Romania, the son makes an unexpected proposition to his father: he invites the old man to accompany him to Japan, where he lives and has a good job and a family. The father is played by a remarkable actor, Victor Rebengiuc, the same who, half a century ago, impersonated in ‘Morometii’ a classic peasant who withstands the crisis of his universe although his sons left home. Now, the recent movie comes with a surprise: the old Romanian peasant, although in the late years of his life, abandons his universe for the exotic Japan. In fact, this is the expression of the Romanian condition – the ‘national’ roots are more fragile than we want to believe. The nationalist rhetoric is more suitable for the profiteers of yesterday and today.