“Capital Print” opens with a snippet of a quote from philosopher Michel Foucault: “The resonance I feel when faced with these little lives turns to ash in a few sentences that knock them down.” A thrilling, forms-bending new feature from Romanian auteur Radu Jude, the film trembles at the cruel potential of language to stifle people’s freedoms, especially when backed by government power.
The film brings together two lives under Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship: a filmed play about the 1981 investigation of a teenager who wrote slogans about democracy and workers’ rights in the city of Botosani; and commercials, educational programs and newsreel footage from state-approved Romanian television of the same period.
It’s the sense of making a party-line that haunts both theatrical performance and TV appearances, which the film’s opening archive demonstrates strikingly. Three well-dressed presenters enthusiastically praise Ceausescu’s Romania until a teleprompter malfunction renders them clumsy and dumb. Without written clues, they have no idea what to say.
The play, which was first written for the stage in 2013 It reuses texts from the files of Romania’s Communist-era secret police, written by Gianina Carbunariu. The actors read these lines in a swift tone, bringing to life the dehumanizing effects of bureaucratic jargon. “Reforming the target” is a dry euphemism for the suppression of dissent; “Youth protection” is the code of surveillance.
Jude’s genius lies in his ability to turn these words against himself – to render them absurd with the cunning juxtapositions of text and image, documentary and fiction. And if the movie draws on the past, it serves as a warning to the present: A closing speech about Ceausescu-era wiretapping slyly references Cambridge Analytica.
Not rated. Romanian, with subtitles. Working time: 2 hours 8 minutes. In movie theaters.