I saw Schimb valutari when it came out ; I re-viewed it recently. My overwhelming impression at the time was that the almightly, exquisite Romanian wave sweeping over cinema were coming to an end. Ten years later that barely registers : it had been running for a full decade by then. How long can a wave run ? Of fucking course it ended, everything ends, what of it ?
Today other items come to the fore. Valentin Uritescu's fine acting, for instance. The overwhelming documentary value of this film, for another.
Understand the story : a stubborn man, a bull of a man was spending his days powering through the world on sheer strength, dreaming his little, ruminant, repetitive dream as he crushed forward.ii As they do, this sort, who knows what the ox thinks himself while pulling the plow ?
The world meanwhile changed, leaving him deeply inadequate. The change, while utter and complete, did not do him the courtesy of killing him, as it evidently should haveiii. No, he's not worth the noose. He was simply, quietly left behind. Meaningless but still alive, a cow without a cowboy, a sheep without the shepherd, to fend for itself. What can it do ? Honestly it doesn't even want to do anything at first, until an older piece of chattel explains to him that chattel's the same everywhere. He wants to know why, if he's so smart, the elder doesn't take his own advice. The answer, comes, predictably, with transference : The old man answers that "foreigners are like women, they seek young blood". Evidently the correct statement would have been "we, the cattle are exactly like whores : age is everything".
So he tries to make a life for himself, out of the ruins of his old life. Let's examine those ruins. Firstly, he has a wife. She's fertile alright, but otherwise utterly and entirely useless. She apologizes for being dumb. She is readily replaced with the first whore he runs into, and that whore's ten times her better. Secondly, he has a "home". It sells on the open market for about 10 grand. Do not laugh -- I personally acquired the sort of home in exchange for a color TV. It's what they're worth. And thirdly, he has social relations. His political father, as they call them here, offers a deal : they shall work together his land, and he's even willing to split the product right down the middle, notwithstanding considerations of land ownership or preexisting improvements. How much is this generous offer worth, the hero wants to know ? Why, about seven million lei. Over six months. Six months of hard, backbreaking field labour.
The hero refuses, pointing out that his previous employmentiv paid him double and he still starved with wife and child in the "home". This is true : the "2.1 million" in monthly pay comes to... hold your breath... just about a hundred dollars. That's right, ladies and gents : there were people living on 1 k a year income. I have seen them, I sat at their table for a drink, I fucked their daughters and sometimes their wives. Millions of these, within my adult life, yes. And guess what ? Now it's your turn -- they sure as fuck ain't going back. You will.
Documentary value, see ? Absolutely capable of recovering a film once its aesthetic value runs out. Just like it recovers your wife each Sunday or whenever it is you two have sex "for good old time's sake". Yes ?———
- 2008, by Nicolae Margineanu, with Cosmin Selesi, Aliona Munteanu, Valentin Uritescu. [↩]
- The tiresome, idiotic communists had culled pretty much any other human type from the population, leaving the bovines nude, unprotected, which makes the character readily stand for his time. Yes, what he does is unmitigatably stupid. It's also normal, in the sense of being exactly what they all did. Documentary, see ? [↩]
- He tries, too, but the king's men only push and shove and beat these days. They no longer shoot, war munitions into the obsoleted crowds. Cheaper this way. [↩]
- He used to work in a "factory", those misdesigned, badly implemented communist atrocities. He no longer worked there because the "factory" in question had met its Larry the Liquidator and was sold for scrap at a profit over its market value. The intimation among the cattle is that this is somehow a bad deed. It pointedly isn't. [↩]