2014 marked 25 years since the Berlin Well fall, the West opened up, and Germany was finally united as a whole again. Yet over two decades on, how life under that oppressive regime functioned continues to fascinate filmmakers and storytellers, with numerous television series and films dedicated to that very subject. But perhaps less well documented on the big screen has been what Romanians endured under the Communist rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. And writer/director Andrei Gruzsniczki tackles it head on in his quietly complex “Quod Erat Demonstrandum,” which concerns itself with the absurdities of bureaucracy, and how a system of repression isn’t guided by black-and-white rules, but a moral and ethical gray area in which both the authorities and citizens must decide how comfortably corrupt they’re willing to be to save their soul.
For Sorin Parvu (Sorin Leoveanu), mathematics is a lifeline from an existence otherwise defined by living at home with his nosy mother. He’s a genius who is on the cusp of a major breakthrough that could change the field forever, but there are a couple of problems. Firstly, before he can publish his findings it must be cleared by the state, and secondly, he’s not a registered Communist. Moreover, having published a paper on the sly in an American journal already without getting the proper clearance, it makes it a considerably more challenging hill to climb if he wants to further his career and obtain his doctorate.
However, his situation is one ripe for investigation by Securitate agent Alecu Voican (Florin Piersic Jr.). He too is hoping to advance his own career, seeing colleagues his own age move up ahead of him. Alecu hasn’t played the game of buddying up with his superiors and is now seeing the results (or rather, the lack of them), but if he can close this case, he could see his fortunes improve. Not only does his career need a boost, but his morale does too. He’s recently divorced, and his ex-wife has a clear disdain for the kind of work he does. And as Alecu looks into Sorin, he’ll cross paths with Elena (Ofelia Popii), whose husband—and Sorin’s best friend—escaped to Paris, where she too hopes to go with her son to reunite with him. But getting the paperwork has been an arduous process, and she’ll eventually have a difficult decision to make that will have consequences for both Alecu and Sorin.
Too slow burning to be called a thriller, yet containing enough suspenseful moving parts that it can’t be called a drama, Gruzsniczki’s film hides a complex machinery beneath its stark, black and white surface. The gorgeous monochrome cinematography by Vivi Dragan Vasile is a wise choice, one that goes beyond offering a visual cue to the soul stultifying mechanics of life under Communism, in which almost every facet of existence seems to be a political negotiation. It also transmits the hellish routine of the paper pushing that keeps the regime going, and the canyons of loneliness that plague our lead characters.
However, there is also warmth to be found in “Quod Erat Demonstradum,” even if the title itself is coolly academic. And that feeling comes from Sorin and Elena, who find both their fates and lives bound together by the man who is his best friend and her husband, all while the prowling Alecu closes in on what he rightly perceives to be a scheme brewing between the pair. But the film makes no judgments of Alecu either, rather it finds all three trying to come to grips with how far they’ll able to go for their individual ends. Indeed, the great irony of this Communist rule is that it’s everyone for themselves.
Thoughtful and controlled, this drama is nevertheless hugely involving. As it slowly unravels, ambition, deception, desperation, and hope are like steadily moving walls looking to trap Sorin, Elena, and Alecu. While their bodies may wind up being free, the price for that will cost so much more. [A]