Metronom, a new Romanian film by Alexandru Belc, opening at cinematheques around the country on March 30, tells an involving story of young people defying the Ceausescu government in the 1970s and paying the price. It won’t make you forget today’s headlines and it may actually intensify your interest in them because this movie shows, with acutely observed detail, what happens under a dictatorship.
The title of this film is also the name of a radio program broadcast in Romania in the 1970s by Radio Free Europe, an American station devoted to promoting democracy. Metronom played Western rock music that people couldn’t hear anywhere else and young people loved it. It’s the show that the main character, Ana (Mara Bugarin) and all her friends listen to and it gives them a secret soundtrack to their lives.
Belc gracefully blends Ana’s coming-of-age story with her political awakening and these twin threads are what give the film its power.
It’s very successful in showing how young people get caught up in political events that they may not fully understand and how their hastily formulated responses to political pressure can shape the rest of their lives.
Life in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania
It’s 1972 and Ana lives with her middle-class family in Bucharest and attends high school. Exams are coming up but she’s more interested in spending every moment with her boyfriend, Sorin (Serban Lazarovici), who is going to move abroad. There is an end-of-the-year party that is especially important for her to attend, the kind of event that looms large in the romantic life of a teenager.
She has vague thoughts of seducing Sorin at this party and she even hopes somehow that going to bed with him will convince him not to leave. Her mother orders her not to attend the party but she sneaks out, changing into a sexier dress at her girlfriend’s house.
At the party, they dance to music by The Doors and get so caught up in the moment, they decide to write a letter to the exiled Romanian DJ, Cornel Chiriac, who hosts the show. Sorin doesn’t show up until later but things don’t go as she had planned and he orders her to leave the event. She stays anyway and is arrested with all the others when the secret police break in.
WRITING THE letter and even listening to the program was a crime in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. But it isn’t clear at first how severe a crime it is. Ana, who is interrogated on her own, stubbornly refuses to cooperate. She won’t name the boy who proposed writing the letter and will not even sign a letter of apology for listening to the program at the party.
Her father, who has connections to the police, tries to talk sense into her. Is she being heroic? Impulsive? Simply immature? As the story unfolds, your emotions will shift and you will begin to consider much broader themes of betrayal and redemption.
It’s an ambitious movie, told mainly through two long scenes, the party and the investigation, and it won Belc the directing prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival and also won the Nechama Rivlin Award for Best International Film at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
Mara Bugarin does not have an easy task because she has to make us care about a girl who only seems to care about a boy at first and then has to make us believe that in the space of just an hour or so is able to see a much bigger picture. But she is appealing and for once, really seems like a high-school kid and not an older actress playing younger.
Vlad Ivanov, the go-to baddie in so many Romanian movies, most notably Cristian Mungiu’s masterpiece, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, plays one of the interrogators and he is able to make it clear that in a system like this, many ambitious people make a career in the Communist Party out of expedience and not conviction.
Belc finds the drama in the sometimes fine line between clear-eyed idealism and reckless self-sacrifice and shows how a love of freedom can take people to unexpected places.