Chuck Norris Vs Communism - Cinema Review

'One of the outstanding films about film of the 21st Century'.

I'm sure I won't be the last person to initially find themselves charmed into watching Chuck Norris Vs Communism by its intentionally sensationalist, exploitation-style title. And I'm even more certain I won't be the last person to be incredibly glad that I was, as Ilinca Calugareanu's documentary steadily reveals itself to be an hour and twenty minutes of both significant and spellbinding cinema.

Norris in the film's title in fact represents many big name action stars of the 1980s, such as Van Damme, Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It was these musclebound heroes' movies that illegally made their way into Romania more than any others during the final years of Nicolae Ceaușescu's strictly repressive Communist government. VHS recorders may have been a home entertainment revolution in the capitalist West, but they in fact helped spark the political revolution in Romania that culminated during the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989.

Calugareanu conjures an authentic representation of life in Communist Romania through the dramatic recreations she features throughout. That the film's time period picks up only one year after that chosen by George Orwell for his iconic dystopian novel makes it all the more chilling how similar to 1984 the severe authoritarian rule within 1980s Romania feels. At times, Chuck Norris Vs Communism transforms into a dark and captivating le Carré-esque political thriller, with pirate video kingpin Teodor Zamfir as its enigmatic central figure. You'll need to remind yourself every so often that the fascinating events you are watching are based in historic fact.

However, Chuck Norris Vs Communism is not a film about Ceaușescu or about Romania's political history, as important as they undoubtedly are within the film's context. Calugareanu's primary interest is in everyday people and how their lives were affected by the influx of black market Hollywood movies. The director crams her film with talking heads, ordinary Romanians who experienced the clandestine screenings of these films and whose genuine passion for cinema is positively infectious. You will never see Norris' Colonel Braddock or Stallone's Italian Stallion in the same way again after witnessing how they opened the eyes of so many of Romania's oppressed population.

The way in which Calugareanu relates the particular story of Irina Nistor, who provided the dubbing for the vast majority of the pirated films, is exquisite. Introducing Nistor as something of a folk legend - those who watched the movies describe what they imagined she looked like from just the sound of her voice - the director wryly chooses to treat us to a similar experience. For much of the film we are allowed only to hear Nistor's voice, with Ana Maria Moldovan playing her in the recreated scenes. Calugareanu finally reveals the woman herself towards the end, perfectly completing the evolution from folk figure to subversive voice to an ordinary person who played her own small but crucial part in the revolution.

There is little exploration of Romania's history further back in the 20th Century, and only glimpses of how things changed in the country after 1989, but Calugareanu's modus operandi is far more personal than lecturing her audience with facts and figures. This is a chronicle of real life experiences, of the power and influence of film and how it can have a phenomenal and lasting impact upon people. Calugareanu includes exactly the right amount of historical and political context needed to tell her chosen story, whilst also most likely whetting the appetites of many in the audience (myself included) to seek out more on Ceaușescu's Romania after watching. Chuck Norris Vs Communism is one of the outstanding films about film of the 21st Century, and a documentary as important as it is inspirational.

Chuck Norris Vs Communism has its European Premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) on Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th June 2015, and will be released in UK cinemas in September. For more information visit the official website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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