With the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Moscow Government and the Department of Culture of the city of Moscow

Russian Cinema club federation ‘Keen Eye’ award

Russian Cinema club federation ‘Keen Eye’ award — 'The Campaign’, Romania, directed by Marian Crisan.

There was this sad joke: “In the Soviet Union they started selling triple beds because Lenin was always with us”. This joke could be told by the villagers of Romanian Salonta, the simple-hearted people.  Once a politician Mokanu from Bucharest comes to stay in the village or rather with the family of the tractor driver Viorel, who is roughly the same age. His team respectfully addresses him as “Minister”, but it is hard to believe he has anything to do with executive power. All the grotesque Mokanu can do is deliver populist and rhetorical talks. This is sufficient to aspire for a seat in the European Parliament. What follows is something that happens under all political regimes in all times: he must urgently simulate closeness to people. For the first time Mikanu finds himself in this rural home purely by chance: his car breaks down not far from the field that Viorel is toiling. Then he finds out that staying in that house is convenient: every day he can demonstrate that he shares the peasants’ worries and hide from the accusations put forward by the opponent during the election campaign. Viorel who is promised a new tractor for his participation in the game, pretends to be an old army friend.  Or rather he has a simpler function – to be “furniture”, part of the interior for innumerable photo sessions. The director Marian Crisan had to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis because a plot like that presents a lot of difficulties. On the one hand it is a comedy of intrigue and the film will inevitably become one. On the other hand it is an accusatory movie and it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid this temptation given all the high-flown rhetoric about bureaucracy. But the director manages to look at his protagonist without laughter or anger. What saves the movie is everybody’s stupor-like state and the slow tempo. The camera barely moves along the village street. Mokanu slowly walks from house to house trying to strike a conversation with the villagers. The latter avoid any meaningful dialogue. All the talks about pies that Mokanu likes to have at the local bakery serve to highlight the senselessness of everything he pronounces from the pulpit, being totally detached from life. Gradually the spectacle that could have been a comedy turns into something half desperate half frightening. The elections are taking too long to begin, the team fret and have a nervous breakdown because they are stuck in this mysterious village (another eternal narrative device). The politician’s gaze becomes empty and the gaze of his friend has always been like that. Any attempts to get drunk, make a confession or break this time loop in any way peter out. Every morning Mokanu wakes up in the room of Viorel’s son, who has gone to town, under the poster of “Metallica”. Marian Crisan’s movie could be called a film about the meaninglessness of everything from the European Parliament to life itself if the director had not shifted the focus from the politician to the tractor driver. All this time he did not merely keep silent and pretend to be a part of furniture but also made his own unconventional conclusions. Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” comes to mind and the idea that authors of social experiments always bear the responsibility for those whom they have tamed. The eternal topic – and oratory about “family being the most important thing”, “heading towards democracy”, “supporting veterans” and even official sport events with the participation of young karate boys will stay there forever. 

Igor Savelev

The Festival Daily