Docu helmer Alexandru Solomon (“Cold Waves”) is the most prominent of Romania’s quiet crusaders, a muckraker who understands that disgust is sometimes better conveyed through intelligent irony rather than bombast. “Kapitalism — Our Improved Formula” is his best pic yet, an eye-opening look at the Balkan nation’s millionaires and the ways they’ve co-opted the corruption put in place by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Docu hit local screens in late April and has hung on through June; nonfiction sidebars and ancillary should help spread the word, while a shortened 52 minute version could see Euro smallscreen play.
In olden days, robber barons paid off politicians rather than enter politics themselves, but now the “heroes of triumphant capitalism” understand that combining the two is far more efficient. This alone explains why no one involved in the 462 corruption cases on the books in Romania has ever been sentenced. Solomon traces the current broken system back to the 1989 revolution, when a nation relieved at finally overthrowing an oppressive regime didn’t bother questioning the backgrounds of the people rising to the top.
In an enormously effective bit of fantasy, the helmer imagines Ceausescu returning to present-day Romania, at first horrified at the rampant consumerism screaming from every corner of Bucharest. But as various scions of industry are interviewed, some remarkably smug in their impenetrable wealth and power, the dictator’s ghost realizes his system of protection and corruption is still firmly in place, controlled by men whose links to the old Securitate (the Dept. of State Security) aren’t difficult to trace.
Not that they want their past dug up. Mogul Dan Voiculescu, vice president of the Senate, successfully had the courts disband a committee investigating Securitate files. Approximately $2 billion went missing in offshore accounts when Ceausescu fell, and though Solomon doesn’t blatantly spell out where the money wound up, he makes it clear that much of the industrialists’ wealth can be connected to the former regime’s illegitimate holdings. A statistic at the end is especially telling: Romania has the smallest GDP of all the former Soviet bloc nations, yet the highest concentration of millionaires.
There’s an astonishingly uniform arrogance coming from these guys, born from the knowledge that they are, ultimately, untouchable thanks to a system they’ve ensured keeps them out of jail. Oil baron Dinu Patriciu blatantly says you can’t be successful unless you steal, and TV magnate Dan Diaconescu casually remarks that if his brand of mindless talkshow existed during Ceausescu’s time, the dictator would still be in place.
Solomon incorporates amusing stop-motion animation with Lego figures and Play-Doh along with slyly juxtaposed historical footage that add knowing chuckles while powerfully driving home his message of monumental fiscal manipulation. Lensing appropriately captures not just the men but their overblown lifestyles, while shots of giant billboards covering crumbling apartment blocks form a nice metaphor.