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Written entirely by Christian Mungiu, the Romanian director of “Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes two years ago, the five parts of “Tales from the Golden Age” were shot by five different Romanian directors. Each segment recreates an urban myth that flourished during the repressive regime of dictator Nicolai Ceausescu, the so-called “Golden Age” of Romanian history.
Each part is told with the kind of brio and bitter irony that only Eastern Europeans seem able to muster. Most of the segments also try to be funny, however, and that’s where the film falters. IFC Films, which has bought the U.S. rights to the film, is likely to find the going difficult.
Some episodes, while often severely drawn out, are relatively humorous, if not entirely novel to anyone who has seen other films from former Communist countries. In the first, the officials in one village laboriously and ridiculously plan — by hanging fruit in a tree, for example — for a delegation of visiting dignitaries that never actually happens. In another, a live pig is delivered to an urban apartment and the recipients, wanting to avoid disturbing the neighbors, decide to gas the animal in the kitchen with butane. A third episode details the elaborate if elementary photoshopping that went on at the official newspaper to make the dictator look taller and more defiant than he did in real life. All of the segments produce ironic smiles, but are hardly laugh-a-thons.
In order to recreate the uncertainty and confusion of the period, the first two screenings of the film at Cannes included five specific episodes, while the third screening substituted a sixth, additional episode for the original first two. Alas, such creative shuffling won’t salvage this project, which will undoubtedly mean a great deal to Romanians who struggled during this dark period, but not much to anyone else.