I am thankful to Alita and Anindya for initiating me into this film.
A fost sau n-a fost? is a 2006 Romanian film by the director Corneliu Porumboiu. 12:08 East of Bucharest is its English name. 12:08 refers to that hour on 22 December 1989. The Romanian revolution started in Timisoara in the west of Romania on 17 December 1989 and was short lived before ending on the 22nd. The film shows the happenings of one day - 22 December 2004. A local TV channel in a small town organizes a talk show on the revolution in their town. As usual, the reporter will take anything that would raise the rating of his channel.
The talk show has a certain local school teacher who is a thorough drunkard and like many drunkards is a good man. He is coaxed into saying, by the host, that he, along with three other teachers of his school, all of who are now either dead or abroad, protested at the town square shortly before noon on the eventful day of 22 December 1989. This sparks a row of comments from viewers. The host seizes the opportunity and discussion veers to whether or not he really did that. The poor guy tries to tell many times that whether he was there or not is not important. It was the revolution that was. Who cares? By then, several members of the society had decided to become judgemental and had taken the responsibility on themselves to correct a grave mistake (in their opinion). Of course, vested interests are at play as well.
Wry humour and perfect depiction of life. This is usually what happens in life. There is an important issue which everyone thinks, has a right to comment on. Then there are all kinds of people - some know that the issue and the stakeholders are most important and hence restraint and humility need to be exercised. Completely at the other extreme are some people who manage to extract some mileage out of the issue - could be financial, could be sexual, could be settling an old score, could simply be ego enhancement. Most are in between - often confused and always judgemental.
Seeing the honest school teacher who becomes a favourite punching bag of everyone, one is reminded of Enemy of The People. The character of the host of the show is reminiscent of Adam Pietryk in the film The Conductor, directed by Andrzej Wajda.
There are many telling moments in the film which I can not describe without spoiler alerts. This is a truly remarkable film. Very unassuming and straightforward. No statements, no slogans, no hints, no forced artistry. Just life.