Echoing such talky midcentury American political dramas as The Iron Curtain and The Fearmakers, Andrei Gruzsniczki’s Quod Erat Demonstrandum illustrates the suffocating officialdom and curious surveillance methods of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime during its waning years. Romania’s first black-and-white feature in 25 years, the film is a low-key but nevertheless enthralling glimpse into an apparently not-so-bygone era expertly brought to life via specific period details and savvy costume and production design.
Whether dealt with directly (The Paper Will Be Blue and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, both period set) or through its lingering influence (Beyond the Hills, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), the ghosts of communist Romania, specifically Ceaușescu’s reign, continues to haunt the minds of young Romanian directors, whose films, despite their diverse aesthetic and formal strategies, seem to have a presiding bottom line: “Never again, never forget.” The same can be said for Quod Erat Demonstrandum, though unlike its politically charged ilk, it’s not a repudiation of communism as much as it is a repudiation of those who permit and otherwise promote the despotism, nepotism, and general oppressiveness of any corrupt political system.
Set in 1984, the story centers on a pair of professionals who are targeted and, for all intents and purposes, bullied by Ceaușescu’s private police, the Securitate, revealing the soul-crushing bureaucracy leveled against the country’s intellectual and academic community. Sorin Parvu (Sorin Leoveanu) is a brilliant mathematician with a theorem that will make him famous, but he’s distinctly not a communist, so his doctoral path is routinely met with petty roadblocks handed down by the party. Surreptitiously, he publishes an article in an American journal, thereby categorizing him as “an individual who maintains deceitful relations with people in foreign states.” Securitate operative Alecu Voican (Florin Piersic Jr.) is tasked with monitoring his actions in addition to those of a computer technician, Elena (Ofelia Popii), whose husband, an academic like Sorin, traveled to Paris and never came back.
Sorin and Elena’s respective plights gradually become intertwined as Alecu looks to nab both of them at once, but he can’t determine actual lawlessness on either of their behalf, much to the chagrin of his superiors, who demand justice of some sort. At their insistence, Alecu goes so far as to prey on Sorin and Elena’s mutual attraction as well as Sorin’s friendship with a former classmate, Lucian (Dorian Boguta), who’s forced into becoming an informant, all at the expense of Alecu moral fiber. Such tactics speak to the relentlessness that defined the administrative protocol late in Ceaușescu’s iron-fisted rule, which exploited personal relationships and professional aspirations in order punish “unruly” citizens and chipped away at institutional camaraderie to Faustian ends.
Gruzsniczki doesn’t denounce his characters; rather, he recognizes the ways betrayal, treachery, and corruption is rationalized under such overbearing institutional influence. Where some films in the Romanian New Wave are quick to disparage those who tolerated and encouraged Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, Quod Erat Demonstrandum takes a sympathetic stance distinguished by a tender and subtle narrative that finds compassion in each of its characters, even as the mighty shadow of Ceaușescu looms over all, shrouding their motives in an ambiguity that’s artfully mirrored in the black-and-white photography.