In the cover of darkness a VHS smuggling ring would traffic American films into the country, which where then overdubbed and duplicated. The ringleader was a man called Teodor Zamfir and his operation would become one of the most significant influences on the eventual uprising and revolution. Films such as Rocky, Beverly Hills Cop, Missing in Action, Pretty Woman and thousands of other titles became a window to the world. Illegal movie nights all over the country would see dozens of people crammed into single room apartments to watch poor-quality videos dubbed into Romanian by one solitary woman, Irina Nistor. Unbeknownst to her she would become the voice of freedom and the unofficial spokesperson for The West.
CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM is a Romanian documentary that looks back on that era and explores the significance of the illegal VHS trade. With first-hand accounts and beautifully staged reenactments, the film is a nostalgic recollection, which presents a celebration of the power of film.
Director Ilinca Calugareanu has brought together an entertaining assortment of characters who provide talking head testimony and recall their youth with equal measures of joy and sadness. They share amusing stories and recall their favourite films, and with such emotive expression they explain how the American culture - as seen through movies - gave them the hope and the determination to fight for their freedom. Also featured are the real life protagonists themselves, whose voices guide the story and provide insight into the dangerous trade. Their stories are incredible and the documentary provides an ongoing narrative through reenactment that puts the viewer right there amongst it. The result is a compelling history lesson that is as exhilarating as the movies it discusses.
The structure and overall direction of CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM is as accomplished as I've seen in recent years. Every detail is carefully ordered as to build an aura of mystery, and as the narrative enters its final act, various personalities are revealed. By this time I found myself so invested in their story that an overwhelming sense of relief and awe washed over me. It is a true story with heroes, and they are the unlikeliest of characters.
The film has a very specific focus, and anyone wanting a detailed account of the Romanian Revolution will be disappointed. That story is, indeed, a tragic moment in time and thousands of lives were lost in the uprising. What CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM does is celebrate the people's triumph and explores the seeds of their insurgence. The power of film inspired an entire nation of people to want more out of life and this is an exceptional piece of filmmaking. Outstanding!