Dead Nation | Tara Moarta (2017) | Locarno Film Festival 2017
Dir: Radu Jude | Doc | 83′ | Romania
Radu Jude’s astonishing documentary follow-up to Aferim! is a chronicle of Romania’s anti-semitism during the late 1930s-1940s told entirely from the perspective of a Jewish doctor, Emil Dorian.
The Romanian director’s fifth full-length film takes the form of a series of stunning professionally taken monochrome photographs (often fading at the edges), featuring groups of ordinary people from the Southern village of Slobozia affected by the horrific ethnic cleansing that raged during the country’s outbreak of fervent Second World War Nationalism. The photographs picture well-dressed family groups, along with farmers posing with their animals and officials proudly sporting their uniforms.
The grisly episode in history contrasts with the benign, often smiling faces of the characters portrayed, striking a poignant note of complicity with viewers who are well aware of their fate, even before they are. Jude narrates against a soundtrack of patriotic anthems and radio broadcasts from the era charting Octavian Goga’s rise to power in September 1937. At the time we hear that a patient in the local hospital is the only Jew suffering from TB and a petition goes round that he should be thrown out. This is the seed of hate that rapidly grew and flourished throughout the country as Romania steadily falls under the grip of Fascism and a Legionnaire’s regime.
Dr Dorian’s florid account of atrocities that occurred during the genocide flows on while the figures in the pristine photographs keep beaming out, beautifully-dressed and posed, almost in defiance of the horrors awaiting them. King Carol II announces there will be no progrom, “but it would be easier for Jews if they left Romania”. Eventually in 1938 synagogues begin to be burnt down as antisemitism rages across the nation and Jewish people become scapegoats. As the country descends into chaos mass deportations take place and the horrors of genocide gradually become apparent. The only hint at personal suffering comes from Dorian himself as he describes “an endless season whose days are grey, cold and bloodstained.”
This episode in history may be not be common knowledge to many viewers (including me, for that matter) but Jude brings it to our attention in a way that makes us want to discover more, and without beating us over the head with a sensationalist portrait, which could have so easily been the case. The film is striking and poetic, the photographs collated with flair and skill. DEATH NATION is a work of art and a documentary that begs to be seen by all. MT
LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 AUGUST 2017