Hybrid documentaries often use their newly-filmed footage to advance narrative drama in the absence of its initial existence; Radu Jude’s Uppercase Print, on the contrary, takes a decidedly uncinematic approach to melding past, present, document, and comment. Hinging around the case of 17-year-old Mugur Călinescu and the state paranoia that ensued after he scribbled some chalk slogans around Botoșani, Romania, the everyday insidious nature of propaganda is here brought to the fore as vandalism quickly morphs into terrorism and the repercussions on Călinescu’s family, friends, and neighbours is felt for years after.

Performativity is a major theme throughout the documentary. The period footage retains its original editing and stylings, contributing to the sense of time and place and contrasting sharply against the connecting monologues. These hold the archival material together with lengthy testimonials delivered with blank faces and expressionless voices. Occasionally, the words will stop: sometimes the speaker will look dead into the camera in silence, the camera tight on his or her face, and sometimes a cassette will continue whirring a few seconds longer than its recording. These pauses provide reflection amid the onslaught of material but do not serve narrative momentum.

The testimonial approach is almost too exhaustive, and its unrushed Brechtian stylings are far from compelling viewing. That said, the result is a thought-provoking picture of oppression. As words dance between impassive and over-demonstrative, they become whatever the listener wants them to be. It is a disconcerting commentary on their use and framing.

Uppercase Print may struggle to find an audience due to its length and format, but its verbatim theatre stylings and exhaustive knowledge of its topic make it a valuable, if curious, testament to tumultuous times. While its pacing does not always serve its narrative, its boldness in committing to this challenge of reflection is commendable.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Bogdan Zamfir, Şerban Lazarovici, Ioana Iacob, Şerban Pavlu

DIRECTOR: Radu Jude

WRITERS: Radu Jude, Gianina Cărbunariu

SYNOPSIS: In 1981, chalk slogans written in uppercase letters started appearing in public spaces in the Romanian city of Botoşani, demanding freedom.

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