Cinema, Mon Amour: Fighting against extinction
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Alexandru Belc’s documentary about the disastrous situation of state-owned cinemas has been shown at DOK Leipzig
With its world premiere last night at DOK Leipzig (26 October–1 November), Cinema, Mon Amour [+see also:
interview: Alexandru Belc
film profile] can be watched and interpreted in many ways. It is an ode to cinema and also a frustrated scream about negligence and indifference. It is an homage to a life spent in a movie theatre, a life lived (literally and metaphorically) through cinema. It is nostalgia, but also enthusiasm, perseverance and obstinacy.
Part of the Save the Big Screen campaign (read the news), Alexandru Belc’s documentary focuses on the Dacia Panoramic cinema in the Romanian city of Piatra Neamţ, a place with 85,000 inhabitants and a single, one-screen cinema, struggling to survive state budget cuts and improvising in order to offer minimal comfort to its visitors. We see everything through the eyes of Victor Purice, the manager, who, together with his two aids, Cornelia and Lorena, refuses to surrender and is ready to do anything in order to “keep screening”.
Starting his career in the 1970s, Purice was a projectionist at the Dacia Panoramic for four decades. He takes care of everything in the 630-seat theatre, and even though he puts on a brave face, the situation is truly dire. Owned by RomâniaFilm, a national company administered by the Ministry of Culture, the cinema has next to no funding. During the cold winters, there is almost no heat, and the employees even make tea to keep their clients – “our masters”, as Purice puts it – warm. “We should burn two seats at every screening; that should solve the heating problem,” says Purice, half-jokingly.
Without giving any solutions, the documentary revels in following Purice, whose rock-star charisma keeps the cinema on the right track. Not only its manager, but also its mason, painter, programmer, plumber and so on, he is nostalgic, reminiscing about the full-house screenings of the olden days (“When we screened Titanic, we had 907 viewers here. The biggest amount of money I have ever seen,” he says at one point, endearingly mixing nostalgia with the financial satisfaction of a once-successful manager). But Purice is also willing to adapt to a new era, improvising solutions in the absence of funding. He is offered new seats by a heritage cinema in Germany, but there is no money to transport the seats to Piatra Neamţ.
Luminous in spite of its dark topic, Cinema, Mon Amour is not a declaration of war on the state’s “grey men” who, following bad management and a very controversial law, sold the majority of Romania’s 400 cinemas to private investors who then turned them into casinos, clubs and restaurants. Today, fewer than 30 of those cinemas are still active, many facing the same challenges as Dacia. There is a scene when Purice tries to contact his management: nobody answers. There is another when the manager talks to Laura Baron, a representative of RomâniaFilm whose position bobs along the vague, ill-omened waters of “we know it's bad, but we have to check how bad it is”. Purice says nothing, but his eyes are eloquent: the show must go on.