Nick Holdsworth
Journalist, writer, author, filmmaker and film and TV industry expert – Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

ROMANIA: Coupling aged photographic references to Romania in the 1930’s together with a diary from the time, this doc gives a chilling account of what awaited Romania’s Jews.

Better known as a feature director (Aferim!, Scarred Hearts and, as an assistant director, on Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), Radu Jude’s The Dead Nation is an evocative 83-minute course in pre-war Romanian history.

Countdown to death

For those unfamiliar with Romanian history, it is probably best just to sit back and let this flow over them, experiencing the eradication of Romanian Jewry through the collage of historic photographs, voices and the words of diarist Emil Dorian as a kind of meditation on the darkness of which the human mind is capable.More than 70 years after the end of the second world war, the Holocaust remains a subject to which filmmakers and writers return time after time; the fact that its enduring horror and power has not been dimmed by time is attested to by the strength of films – the Oscar-winning Son of Saul by Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes is only one of the latest and most prominent.

«The byways of the Nazis’ “Final Solution”, and the enthusiastic complicity by various Axis Power confederates, make documentaries such as Jude’s fascinating»

It is precisely the largely unexplored byways of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” – the enthusiastic complicity in Genocide by various Axis Power confederates – that make documentaries such as Jude’s fascinating. Starting with a soundtrack of a steam train that blends into photographic references to Romania in 1933, the film – and the inexorable journey of the symbolic train (drenched in associations of cattle trucks and doomed humanity) – picks up speed as the years begin to tick by in a countdown to death… 1937 merges into 1938 as war approaches.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLTdgbLIyc4

There is an awful premonition in the diarist Dorian’s references from the time of what awaits Romania’s Jews: “The collapse is general. People expect the same measures introduced by Hitler in Germany.” (Cue an image of cattle standing on a snowy field).

Swapping sides

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