For viewers who were lucky enough not to know what the life of the youth in a communist dictatorship meant and what role music played in the disintegration of propaganda and the collapse of the system in Eastern Europe, I recommend as a prelude or documentary material Leslie Woodhead’s film ‘How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin’.
Alexandru Belc started planning for such a non-fiction film, but during the documentary process he decided to change the direction and make a fiction film instead, his debut as director in this format. The generation of Romanian teenagers from the beginning of the 70s had the chance to listen to the shows of DJ Cornel Chiriac, who broadcast from Munich about pop music and about a free world, where young people had access to all kinds of music, literature, art, culture they wished and could chat and even travel freely anywhere. For the Metronom generation, these radio shows were lessons in music and freedom. I also belong to this generation. I will try to write objectively about ‘Metronom‘, but I can’t promise that I will succeed.
The story takes place in Bucharest in the autumn of 1972, in the month of October. Romania was playing in the Davis Cup final against the USA, and snippets of the tennis matches will be shown on TV at the party that is at the center of the plot.
The participants are final grade high-school students who take advantage of the absence of a girl’s parents to gather, talk, smoke (tobacco) and drink, but above all to dance and listen to the music they love: Romanian pop tolerated by censorship and the Metronom radio shows of Cornel Chiriac. The young folks write a letter to Radio Free Europe in which they complain about the ideology that oppresses them and demand for their musical preferences to be broadcast. The love story between Ana (the main heroine of the film) and Sorin takes place against this background.
Ana knows that Sorin will soon travel abroad and that he will not return. She wants to convince herself of his love and seal it with her first sexual experience. Sorin is behaving strangely and suddenly leaves the girl and the party. A few hours later, the Securitate invades the apartment, arrests the young people it finds there and takes them to a brutal investigation.
Listening to Western music was not forbidden by law, but sending a letter to a foreign radio station was a crime in communist Romania, a crime punishable by imprisonment, with the prohibition of rights, with the impossibility of studying in a university. With violence, threats and blackmail, the security policemen try to force the young people to denounce each other and sign statements pledging to become security informers. Ana, who had come to the party to meet Sorin, finds in her the resources to resist. The investigator tells her that Sorin was the one who denounced them all. Perhaps this was his way of buying a passport to freedom? Lie or psychological pressure? Released after a nightmarish night, Ana will try to find Sorin and find out about the truth.
Alexandru Belc was born eight years after 1972. He had the chance to live through communism for only about nine years, so it cannot be said that this film conveys the result of a direct personal experience. And yet the reconstruction of the era is very accurate – the streets; the Bucharest apartments with limited spaces, full of heavy furniture and books; tape recorders and pickups used at parties; the clothing, including the hideous school uniforms with the appalling matriculation numbers. However, the reconstruction of the psychology of the characters is what impressed me the most.
I think that Alexandru Belc managed to build a memorable character through Ana, helped of course by the special interpretation of the actress Mara Bugarin. I think he did very well by also looking for inspiration at his generation and the youth of the same age today. Then as now, young people wanted freedom, to listen to the music they want, to discover the world around them, to explore themselves, to love.
Ana in the film has the innocence of the young woman who knows she has the right to freedom despite the lies that surround her, the dignity to resist blackmail, and the courage to live her romantic relationship despite the betrayal. Sorin’s character is less fleshed out and that’s a shame, because he represents the other side of the youth back then. Vlad Ivanov, always an impressive actor, also appears in the film, and the only complaint I could make is that he repeats here a type of role that he has played many times before.
I liked ‘Metronom‘ because it says a lot of true things about my generation and times that some idealize, others demonize, and which were much more complex than one extreme or the other. The ending is awesome. The young students passed the baccalaureate and seem, apparently, to have returned to the ‘norm’. It is actually an open ending and even a false ending. Have they been called again to Securitate? Did some of them agree to become Securitate collaborators? What is for sure is that they will be in the streets 17 years later, among those who will destroy the system. Cornel Chiriac and his Metronom won in the end.