Chuck Norris vs Communism
Directed by Ilinca Calugareanu
In late eighties, in Ceausescu's Romania, a black market VHS bootlegger and a courageous female translator brought the magic of Western films to the Romanian people and sowed the seeds of a revolution.
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★★★½ review by Tyler Featherstone on Letterboxd
A documentary on VHS bootlegging in Romania with some pretty high stakes.
A country under the thumb of ruthless communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu; this film follows the select few that took it upon themselves to bring movies into the lives of their country's repressed citizens. The idea of risking jail and loosing all your possessions for the chance to watch a poorly dubbed copy of "Missing in Action" or "Rocky" seems ridiculous, yet that was reality for these people.
Told through interviews and re-enactments, "Chuck Norris vs. Communism" (not big on the name, but I dig that poster), is an entertaining look at how film can shape people and, in this particular case, spark a revolution that changed the course of a nation.
★★★½ review by Dave Jackson on Letterboxd
Chuck Norris vs Communism presents an absolutely fascinating story that I was not in slightest familiar with: the subversive use of dodgy bootleg video tapes in communist Romania. It is a great tale and benefits from some fantastic central characters, especially Irina Nistor, the voice of the movement. The attachment and love the interview subjects have to the shrill, unassuming voice that dubbed everything from Jaws 2 to Doctor Zhivago is incredibly endearing and Nistor herself is a delight. The film does a great job in building her into a legend through nicely shot reenactments and her mostly disembodied narration. Though I found the subject engaging, Chuck Norris vs Communism does get a little weary at times, falling back on interviewees to pad it out with repeated information. It's very short, running under 80 minutes, but perhaps would have worked better with even more of a trim.
(On a side note, the film's title is terrible. It creates the image of a trashy, worthless documentary and gives far too much props to Norris, just one of the action stars mentioned in the film.)
★★★★★ review by Waldo on Letterboxd
The power of cinema! Even the shitty films! Not since Cinema Paradiso Ive seen a more loving tribute to films. We watch communist Romania toppled by the power of illegal videotapes. A thing that was more valuable than any other product in any market. A mousy translator, a courageous smuggler, and a nation hungry for anything different. Some of the stories moved me to tears. I mean, the Lone Wolf Mcquade one? The story of the guy training like Rocky? The rat in the bag in Missing in Action 2? And the swear words montage made me laughed hard! "There was life in the video player" Yes, sir. There was.
★★★★ review by Mark Cunliffe on Letterboxd
I think we can all agree that film offers wonderful escapism. But imagine the levels of escapism they offer if you were living under the oppressive communist regime of Ceaușescu's Romania during the 1980s, where television offered wall to wall propaganda and where films (much like everything else from the West) were banned.
To get your hands on VHS tapes of films like Dirty Dancing, Last Tango in Paris, Pretty Woman, Beverly Hills Cop, Scarface, Alien and the oeuvre of action stars such as Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and the titular Chuck Norris came with great risk, but it was worth it to gaze upon a window to another world that your oppressors would rather you did not know existed - a fantasy world that you slowly realised could become a reality. Ultimately films were not just escapism here, they were a primer for how to live the rest of your life; a catalyst for change.
This is the premise of Ilinca Calugareanu's wonderfully absorbing documentary - a fitting ode not only to the appeal and power of cinema, but also the quiet courage and heroism of a uniquely 1980s Romanian underground, where a dubbing artist such as the mysterious Irina Nistor becomes a heroine of the movement, despite her audiences not even knowing what she looked like or who she was.
I loved this.
Number 75 in my 52 films by Women in 2018 challenge.
★★★★ review by Bob Blaschuk on Letterboxd
Despite being a bit misleading with it's title, Chuck Norris vs. Communism is really quite good, and if you are a tape head super interesting to boot.
Watching this was like watching a spy thriller about a resistance movement in Romania, which in a way it was. But there is intrigue, secret police, a dictator, and people living in constant fear. This also ends up being a love letter to the VHS tape and film in general as we see through interviews how film and the ability to bootleg copies of them was part of a spark of rebellion in a country under the thumb of communism. I loved how the voice of Irina was like the voice of freedom, everyone interviewed had a different answer for what she looked like in their minds eye, but she represented the same thing to them, she was like a bit of hope bringing them a view of a better life.
Now the title was more of an eye catcher than really what this was about, I feel they threw in some specific Chuck Norris stories just to make the name fit, but it wasn't needed. How VHS toppled Communism would have been more realistic and even then it's stretching the truth.
As I said before if you are a tape head or history buff this if for you. A really great story about a terrible time.
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