March 8 was the day when Soviet-bloc countries saluted working women, and “8th of March” shows how even the good parts of communist philosophy have been bankrupted by subsequent governments. In this strong feature-length docu debut, Alexandru Belc trains his observational camera on women laborers in five workplaces, conjuring comparisons between the gleaming promise of Soviet mechanization and the current reality of drudgery and decrepitude. Though it can feel slightly repetitious, this handsome, affecting docu deserves a place in nonfiction fest slots.
The day is still referred to as Intl. Women’s Day, but the holiday’s function as a celebration of female equality in the workforce was largely dropped after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Belc went to five locales in Romania and spent two years following women through their work day from start to finish; tight editing makes it appear as if everything happens within the space of one long shift.
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Most troubling is a quartet of tough broads who refuse to wear required filter masks while sweeping coal dust in an antiquated processing plant. One woman even admits she doubts she’ll make it to 60, and auds have the uncomfortable sensation of watching lung tumors grow. Despite their exhausting, dangerous jobs, these women end their days readying themselves to cook and clean for their husbands; so much for equality.
Elsewhere, a female tram driver speaks of the joy she gets from her amateur folklore group, underplaying her palpable frustration at declining the chance years earlier, on her husband’s insistence, of going pro as a singer. In another city, a hard-working garment workshop supervisor sternly oversees a group of seamstresses; and in yet another locale, a female guard gives a tour of a factory whose vast, empty spaces and state of decay make clear the failed promise of communist industry.
Belc doesn’t use any archival footage, but viewers familiar with Soviet propaganda films extolling the glories of synchronized conveyor belts and ballet mechanique pistons can’t help but make comparisons with the grimy-walled factories of the present, ill lit and strewn with soot-covered detritus. The docu is full of moments of silence, reflecting their mindless labor interrupted only by equally routine breaks.
At first, the helmer seems to be color-coding his sequences, presenting a starkly white room with white factory coats and boots, then cutting to an intensely blue elevator and the garment overseer in a blue coat. Continuing this vision all the way through would have been impossible, especially as the majority of scenes exist in the faded grays of aging factories. Belc’s well-trained eye means that even casual handheld shots have a satisfying grace.