8th of March: Film Review

Modestly-scaled observational documentary does a decent job of illustrating labor-conditions for Romanian women.

Alexandru Belc's debut documentary follows the lives of Romania's working women.

CLUJ, ROMANIA - A likeably unvarnished portrait of one day in the lives of Romania's working women, 8th of March (8 Martie) is an empathetically observational documentary executed with steady, safe-hands professionalism. As such it will find no shortage of takers among non-fiction-friendly TV channels and festivals -- especially events and sidebars specializing in feminist matters and/or contemporary labor issues -- even though no new ground is broken either formally or content-wise.

First-time director Alexandru Belc mainly takes a detached, unobtrusive, fly-on-the-wall approach, occasionally interviewing eliciting comment from the ladies shown working in various jobs across an eclectic handful of locations. By far the most voluble and entertaining is a garrulous middle-aged tram-driver who chats away while navigating her way through her unidentified city's streets, reminiscing about her early showbusiness ambitions. "Apron in my hand / a fire burning in my heart" she warbles at the wheel near the end of her long shift. But team-work is otherwise the norm in a film which peeks into a small garment-assembly business ('Casa de Moda'), a hyper-modern food-processing factory, and a grimy, Communist-era behemoth of a building where coal is sorted by hand.

The latter provides the most spectacular vistas for Belc's hand-held digital camera(s), cavernous rooms filled with clanking, dust-encrusted equipment that's evidently decades past its prime, and where conditions seem unlikely to fulfil stringent European Union health-and-safety regulations. The tough women who process the coal ("we don't need no gym!") realize they're the last of their kind, with the plant "no longer hiring" and the young folk of the area preferring to seek work abroad: "no-one is coming after us... It'll fall into ruins," one asserts with rueful resignation. Then again, given the harshness of the working environment -- where "you don't even live to be sixty" thanks partly to the "titanic workload" -- perhaps the imminent demise of this particular operation shouldn't be a cause for unalloyed gloom.

Belc thus snapshots Romania in a steady process of economic transition, with the old collectivized combines of heavy industry give way to the near-Kubrickian, antiseptic workplaces typified by the dairy-foods operation. In the latter, repetitive, mechanized labor work is conducted in hushed quiet -- banter between colleagues on the production-line is sparse and whispered, in stark contrast to the boisterous camaraderie on show among the coal-sorters.

With editor Ioachim Stroe -- who cut Cristi Puiu's radically different vision of modern Romanian life, 3-hour high-art provocation Aurora -- moving fluidly between each of its four sets of subjects, the film leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions from the quotidian, determinedly unremarkable material straightforwardly presented. The closest we come to drama is when one of the women in Casa de Moda bursts out in tears of frustration after her standards are criticized by a supervisor, but this 'incident' is over almost as soon as it's begun.

Belc, sharing screenplay credit with the film's producer Tudor Giurgiu, rigorously eschews captions, music, commentary and overt editorializing, even leaving his title unexplained. The picture proceeds chronologically from icy pre-dawn to chilly night-time over the course of what's officially celebrated worldwide International Women's Day, though there's no way of knowing this rather crucial detail from the film itself. Likewise it would have been useful to be given some basic geographical information, as the places depicted could be all in the same locality or spread far and wide across this diverse, rapidly-changing country.

Venue: Transilvania International Film Festival
Production company: Libra Film
Director / Director of Photography: Alexandru Belc
Screenwriters: Alexandru Belc, Tudor Giurgiu
Producer: Tudor Giurgiu
Editor: Ioachim Stroe
Sales Agent: Libra Film, Bucharest
No rating, 73 minutes.