Quod Erat Demonstrandum: Rome Review

Slow and steady wins the race in this spare but touching portrait of Romanian oppression.

Writer-director Andrei Gruzsnickzki (“The Other Irene”) unspooled his second feature in competition at the Rome Film Festival.

A slow-burn, politically charged drama that revisits the dog days of Romania’s dictatorship, Andrei Gruzsnickzki’s Quod Erat Demonstrandum follows three characters seeking a way out from the vise-grip of poverty and coercion that marked the final years of Ceausescu’s 22-year reign.

Shot in stark black-and-white imagery and set in the sterile world of mathematics and computer programming, the film feels like a bleaker version of Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess, with considerably less gags -- although like many a recent Romanian movie, this one has its own brand of subdued dark comedy. Perhaps too taxing for most audiences, Q.E.D. is nonetheless a cleverly structured and well-acted work that pays dividends in its closing scenes, and should see minor theatrical stints in Europe following a competition bow in the Rome Film Festival.

Taking place, like the Bujalski movie, in the mid-1980’s, the story follows a trio of characters whose destinies become intertwined in ways both good and bad.

Sorin (Sorin Leoveanu) is a math genius obsessed with Fourier series, and who’s working out a new theorem he believes will revolutionize computing. His close friend, Elena (Ofelia Popii, Rocker), works as a programmer, but is planning to join her husband in France, where she and her son (Marc Titieni) can lead a better life.

Both characters fall under the suspicious eye of Alecu (Florin Piersic Jr, Charlie Countryman), a secret police officer looking to climb the ranks of his department. A man without scruples plagued by a recent divorce, he sets in motion a plan whereby he’ll nab Elena for smuggling Sorin's groundbreaking paper out of the country.

Jumping from one story to another, but focusing mostly on Elena’s push and pull between professional pressures and personal desires, Gruzsnickzki weaves a slow -- probably too slow, for many viewers -- yet steady portrait of people crushed by the weight of power, which Alecu wields in reprehensible ways.

Playing off of Elena’s sentimental side, while promising Sorin’s colleagues rewards for spying, Alecu serves as a prime example of how Ceausescu and his cronies created an atmosphere of constant oppression, with everyone outing their friend or neighbor in order to get by. (Severe food and gas rationing made life in Romania particularly difficult during the period in which the film is set.)

Despite the feeling of desolation, Gruzsnickzki -- whose 2009 debut, The Other Irene, toured the fest circuit -- lightens things up with stabs at sly humor, and one running gag involving Sorin’s mother actually becomes a key element in the plot. He also creates a true sense of camaraderie between Elena and Sorin, two old buddies who made youthful promises that are increasingly hard to keep.

Performances are skillfully handled, and Popii is particularly strong as a mother who suffers multiple humiliations in order to save her family. Tech credits are pared-down but solid, with cinematographer Vivi Dragan Vasile (Of Snails and Men) aptly capturing the city’s ominous apartments, offices and buildings, including a barren modernist airport where the film’s touching finale pans out.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (Competition)

Production companies: ICON production

Cast: Sorin Leoveanu, Ofelia Popii, Florin Piersic Jr., Virgil Ogasanu, Tora Vaislescu

Director, screenwriter: Andrei Gruzsnickzki

Producer: Velvet Moraru

Director of photography: Vivi Dragan Vasile

Production designer: Cristian Niculescu

Costume designer: Svetlana Mihailescu

Editor: Dana Bunescu

Sales agent: ICON production

No rating, 107 minutes