Interview with Radu Jude: “The Fascist past was not forgotten”
In IEŞIREA TRENURILOR DIN GARĂ you once again tackle the subject of antisemitism and historical responsibility in Romania. There has never been a large public debate about the pogrom of Iaşi and the subsequent mass murder in two death trains, which claimed approximately 12,000 lives, just as there has never been one about antisemitism. What kind of role does coming to terms with the Fascist past play within the current political culture in Romania?
Not a particularly big one. For obvious reasons, after the 1989 Revolution, there was a desire to criticise and analyse the Communist dictatorship, which was brutal and destructive in many aspects for our country, especially in the Stalinist times and in the late 1980s, during Ceaușescu's last years. The Fascist past was not forgotten; on the contrary, it was seen by many in an at least somewhat positive light because it was anti-communist. On the other hand, under Ceaușescu's dictatorship obviously fascist ideas were taken up in covert form. After the Revolution, these ideas returned to their old form in an almost natural way.
Nationalism, for example, was a mixture of anti-communist hatred and anti-democratic ideas, combined with the Orthodox Church's isolationist views of the 1930s and 1940s. It was anti-European and anti-American during Ceaușescu's time, and after the end of his regime it reappeared in different forms. In the 1990s, dozens of streets were named after the Fascist military dictator Marshal Antonescu and there were a lot of statues of him all over the country – it was only the negotiations with the EU and NATO that forced us to tear them down.
And not even two years ago, it was quite shocking to see politicians in parliament vote for a shameful, so-called national "Family Referendum" – in fact, an initiative against LGBTQ rights – and use fascist ideas and concepts as arguments: to protect ourselves from Western decadence, to have faith in our traditions and Church values, to fight (neo-)Marxists etc. It was as if Marshal Antonescu or Ceaușescu were addressing the nation again. I can also answer your question in a more simple way by counting how many films deal with the Communist times and how many with the Fascist past. There are probably more than 50 narrative films and documentaries about the Communist times and, apart from my films, only two or three that deal with the Fascist era.
The events described in your film are characterised by a particularly brutal, sadistic violence, in which calculated and so-called "spontaneous" attacks come together. Those who participated were not only Fascist legionnaires, policemen and soldiers, but also other if not almost all parts of the population. How did you start your research, where did you find the pictures and the witness reports? Were you surprised by the extent of the cruelty?
IEŞIREA TRENURILOR DIN GARĂ was made at the suggestion of the historian Adrian Cioflâncă, who worked for about ten years on finding all the possible information and all the documents regarding this horrific event. At first, I didn't want to make another film about a massacre, but when Adrian introduced me to his work, I felt that his research was so important, we needed to tackle the subject. So it was Adrian's years of research in all kinds of archives that led to this film. Regarding the atrocities, what can one say? That it is very difficult to even imagine them.
Through the portraits of those who were later persecuted and murdered, the victims are given a face. In this way, history is broken down into individual cases and simultaneously rendered comprehensible as a whole. At the end of the film, there are no more narrators; the imagined lives behind the portraits, as well as the reports of the witnesses, fall silent in the face of the horror of the images. How did you develop the dramaturgical idea for this film?
It was developed little by little. When Adrian Cioflâncă, using the archive he amassed, was able to reconstruct the fate of more than 200 victims, we decided that we'll organise the film as a kind of catalogue. This way, as you pointed out, we could bring the dead out of the cold abstraction of numbers. It’s one thing to say 5,000 dead or 10,000 dead, but it’s something else to see these people, even in a photograph, with this small trace of their lives. All of a sudden, you know that these people really lived, really would have had a future had it not been brutally destroyed. Then we decided to use the photos of the actual pogrom. We hesitated for a long time, some of these images are very difficult to bear, and their use brings up a lot of ethical questions. I am well aware of the irresolvable contradiction. In the end, we told ourselves that we should use them because they demonstrate to the notorious deniers that the testimonies in the first part of the film cannot be rejected as false.
In your films you reflect in very different ways and through different genres on traditional prejudices against Roma and Jews, showing how in certain power constellations they lead to collective excesses of violence. What role can cinema play in clearing up history, how can it counter the antisemitism rising throughout Europe, and how must it change in order not to devalue this task through conventional documentary means?
To be honest, this is a difficult question that I hear frequently. It is obvious that cinema – art in general – cannot have the power to "counter" something terrible happening on a grand scale. What can cinema do to stop wars? Nothing. That being said, I still believe this type of cinema is important. Regarding some of my recent films, some people have said that they are useless, that they cannot change anything, that they deal with a forgotten past, etc. You could put it that way. But if they are useless, then why are there so many people who get annoyed or react aggressively when they discover their subject matter? For me, these are signs that they might not be completely useless.
(Interview: Bernd Buder, February 2020)