“With his innovative blend of documentary and fiction, Vlad Petri effectively carries on the Romanian cinematographic tradition of dissecting, through visual creativity and an offbeat tone, the madness of his country during the eighties.”
“Remember when you told me this would be a new beginning?” says one of the voices of Between Revolutions, Maria, to the other, Zahra, at one point in the movie. The two women are fictional creations by director Vlad Petri and his co-writer Lavinia Braniste, inspired by documents they found in the archives of the Romanian Secret Police. Petri and Braniste imagined an epistolary correspondence between two women meeting in college and being separated when one of them goes back to her country of origin: Zahra returns to Iran (as the opening credits inform us, many Iranian women went to Romania to pursue their studies during the sixties and the seventies), while Maria remains in her homeland.
Zahra is drawn back to Tehran by the emerging hope of a new way of life there as the uprising against the monarchy of the Shah grows stronger in 1978. Her expectations are quickly crushed when the Iranian Revolution turns into an Islamic Revolution, switching one authoritarian government for another. Meanwhile, Maria undergoes her own disillusionments as life in Romania becomes increasingly difficult due to economic rather than societal concerns. The words of their made-up letters expand in a sensible manner on these feelings of defeat by fleshing out the inner life of both women, their emotions and their bond. In the course of one sentence or between the lines, we learn of their surveillance by the political police in both countries and of their potential love story during the short amount of time they spent together.
In keeping with the reality of life under a dictatorship, the film does not linger (it lasts just over one hour) on these individual aspects. They are trampled upon like everything else by the steamroller of regime propaganda – through its editing, Between Revolutions creates a parallel between the cults of personality surrounding Nicolae Ceausescu and Ruhollah Khomeini – and restraints, since the only thing you can do is to ‘obey the rules’. One change of verb tense is enough to have us apprehend what is inflicted on Maria and Zahra and how violently it is done: ‘we felt free’ becomes ‘we feel constrained’. The fact that Maria, a decade after Zahra, will in turn experience a revolution does not change anything with regard to that conclusion; the overthrow of Ceausescu’s regime will similarly be confiscated by the private interests of a few.
The archive footage gathered by Petri to tell this story, of two women who love a country that does not love them back, often takes us where we least expect it. Images with a truly documentary aim are intertwined with sequences on the verge of abstraction, like those massive parades performed under Ceausescu’s reign: once they are separated from the context, their choreographies become a striking exemplification of the absurdity and dehumanization endured by the people – the ballet of propaganda. With his innovative blend of documentary and fiction, Vlad Petri effectively carries on the Romanian cinematographic tradition (led by the likes of Radu Jude or Corneliu Porumboiu) of dissecting, through visual creativity and an offbeat tone, the madness of their country during the eighties.