Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Romanian Film Festival ’11: Red Gloves

It was hard being part of Romania’s Saxon minority, particularly in the immediate post-war years. Embolden by the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, the Romanian Communists began targeting the German-speaking minority. Though as a group they were disproportionately anti-Communist (and for good reason), this was not the case for young leftwing student Felix Goldschmidt. His lengthy imprisonment, interrogation, and trial testimony are dramatized in Radu Gabrea’s Red Gloves (trailer here), which screens this Thursday during the 2011 Romanian Film Festival, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Romanian Cultural Institute.

Goldschmidt tried to believe the excesses of Romania’s so-called “obsessive decade” were an aberration that would soon give way to true socialism. He also craved acceptance. That would be more than enough for his interrogators to work with. In truth, Goldschmidt’s politics were a little slippery. He had associated with several nonconformist elements, but his relationship with them was somewhat ambiguous. In particular, he claims to resent the now banned author Hugo Huegel for stealing his girlfriend, but viewers witness decidedly intimate scenes shared by the two men.

Frankly, Goldschmidt is fairly wishy-washy, which makes him more vulnerable to the tactics of his captors. He seems especially eager to please the German speaking Major Blau, yet for a time he resists denouncing his friends and colleagues. Still, a strong personality can only hold out for so long—and Goldschmidt is not such a man.

Based on fact, but adapted from the novel by Enginald Schlattner, a Saxon-Romanian Lutheran pastor, Gloves is a deeply and pervasively tragic film. Arguably, Gabrea has become something akin to Romania’s cinematic conscience having helmed a adaptation of a previous Schlattner Saxon-Romanian novel, as well as the Holocaust-themed drama Gruber’s Journey, and documentaries about Romania’s Yiddish cultural legacy.

With Gloves, Gabrea focuses squarely on the interrogation process, vividly portraying the breakdown of Goldschmidt’s soul. Though there are frequent subsidiary flashbacks within the main narrative flashback, it is all a bit stage-like, featuring a relatively cast of characters in a confined setting. Yet, it is an effective arena to explore the terrors of Romania’s communist past, particularly through the hard insights offered by a former judge and a priest who briefly share Goldschmidt’s cell.

Though it is essentially by design, Goldschmidt is still a rather hollow figure nonetheless, never really brought to life by Alexandru Mihaescu. In contrast, Udo Schenk is absolutely electric as Blau. He deserves to be an internationally star, but the SS and Communist officers he has played for Gabrea are difficult to embrace, despite the screen charisma he brings to them.

Bitterly ironic and brutally honest, Gabrea’s film is—to use a loaded term from Gloves—a “cathartic” work. It is also a high quality period production that might come as a welcome respite to patrons tiring of the Romanian New Wave aesthetic, even with its grim subject matter. Respectfully recommended, it screens Thursday night (12/1) during the 2011 Romanian Film Festival at the Walter Reade Theater.