Contemporary Romanian filmmakers tend to make films about transgenerational trauma, about the efforts of parents trained under socialism or transition to transmit their helplessness to their children by corrupting them. This can be clearly seen in Cristian Mungiu’s film Bacalaureat, in which a middle-class father arranges for his daughter, who has had an upsetting accident, to be allowed to lie on her high school graduation exam so that the exam won’t prevent her from enjoying a bright future. However, the daughter doesn’t put a hidden mark in the text she sends to the examiner and so the story seems to end with a happy ending. We see a different ending in the film Metronom.
During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe’s “Metronom”, presented by the legendary Cornel Chiriac, broadcast the latest hits in Western rock music. Not a few Romanians and Bulgarians listened to it. The Bulgarians were even learning Romanian to understand what it was all about. The film is about such young Romanians who are open to world music and want to have fun.
The protagonist meets her classmates and together they listen to “Metronom”. During one such evening, they discuss that their group should write a letter to Cornel Chiriac telling him how important he is to them and asking him to play certain rock artists. In the same letter, the high school students also include some criticism of the party and state propaganda that is increasingly present in their lives. The letter is to be delivered by the protagonist’s boyfriend via a French journalist during a slightly conspiratorial meeting. In the next moment of the film, we see the secret service take control of the apartment.
In socialist Romania, listening to Western radio stations is an anti-state activity. Young people are called somewhere to testify, describing who was present at the event and who did what. Unlike her friends, the protagonist does not want to testify. The reaction of law enforcement is to shoot her down. She is locked up in a cramped room in a police station or in a security headquarters. However, her father manages to get a brief meeting with her and explains that everything is known to the authorities and that her stubbornness is pointless. He tells her that the man who offered to write the letter was an agent to lead the others into temptation. The protagonist tenses, but eventually completes her statement in a submissive tone.
The officer then tries to recruit her. He tells her that her father has a good position (law professor) and that the services can help her complete any higher education she wants. She tenses up again, but finally tacitly agrees to think about it for a few days.
The next few moments of the film involve her realizing that maybe her family is somehow part of the system. Her parents forbid her to talk on the phone, and she overhears her father on the phone telling someone, presumably the officer, that her daughter is still thinking. What follows is the love scene with her boyfriend, who is about to go overseas. There’s also an awkward conversation with a female friend in which each of them talks about what letters they write. It seems that a youth has been cut short and that power has been reproduced in a person who was until recently young and innocent. This, of course, corresponds to Romania’s geopolitical and national interests in the 1970s, when Ceaușescu’s liberalisation and openness to the West gradually eroded. The country is about to turn into an increasingly isolated system that regards foreigners with suspicion.
Romanian directors in recent years like to make films about how parents corrupt their children by passing on their traumas. For me, this is a sign that there is an awareness in Romania that society needs to renew itself and unlearn the “lessons” of authoritarian socialism or transition. It is probably an understanding in line with the interests of the middle class in Romania.
In Bulgaria, the understanding of transgenerational trauma seems to be less present – at least in cinema. On the contrary, films such as those about historical figures from the Renaissance or the Middle Ages seem to want to reproduce in us a cult of ancestors, not an emancipation from them. The protests of 2013 and 2020 were an expression of the aspirations of the younger generation in Bulgarian politics, but they were also quickly integrated by the political system with its endless skirmishes between businessmen Prokopiev, Peevski and Borisov.
Metronom is not a film about teenage love, as is often advertised. Rather, it is a film about how, under authoritarian regimes and strong social controls, children become adults almost immediately, with minimal time for youthful wandering and the search for freedom. Is it okay for kids to become adults without having been teenagers? Or do some children, having become teenagers, never grow up?
The film Metronom may raise different questions, not just about socialism. Awareness of the dilemmas and experiences of authoritarian regimes in South-East Europe can prove useful in figuring out what social direction we want for ourselves and our children. Metronom follows the protagonist’s development in a truthful way. Can we be moved by her sacrifice?
Source: Screenshot from the trailer of Metronom (source: YouTube)
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