|Directed by:||Irene Lusztig||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2001||Running Time:||90 mins.|
|Language:||English, French, Hebrew, Romanian (subtitled)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||Wikipedia; Filmmaker Interview||Category:||World Jewry|
A group of Jewish intellectuals robbing a bank isn’t an image that comes easily to mind, but it’s one that was splashed across movie screens in Communist Romania. In Reconstruction, the granddaughter of the only woman involved in what became known as the “Ioanid Gang Bank Heist” seeks to understand the mysterious crime and how its alleged participants were forced to “reenact” the crime in an anti-Semitic propaganda film — in the process, discovering the enigmatic grandmother she never knew.
“Robbing a bank is the American Dream,” says filmmaker Irene Lusztig. The same dream would seem to have appealed to Lusztig’s grandmother Monica back in Romania, despite her being an otherwise lawful citizen. She and her husband were portrayed as something of a Romanian Bonnie and Clyde, but her true story proves much more complex than the famous cinematic cliche.
Reconstruction gets its name from the anti-Semitic propaganda film of the same title, which was made by the Romanian government three years after the robbery was committed. The original Reconstruction was a strange blend of documentary and fiction, a crime film in which the criminals — who were in prison at the time the film was made — played themselves. The film was only screened to journalists and high-ranking Communist officials, intended to serve as an illustration of the Jewish threat to Communist Romania. Shortly after its debut, it was buried and lost beneath government files, but, with much digging, Lusztig managed to discover an extant copy, and incorporates clips of it into her documentary.
With a tone of uncertainty, Lusztig tries to sort through the rumors that surround the crime in the hope of discovering what really happened. Were the criminals going to give the money to poor Jews in their community? Where they going to fly away and escape to Israel? Or, was the crime completely staged as apart of a communist conspiracy against the Jews?
But the title, “Reconstruction,” could just as easily describe the process Lusztig goes through in discovering the life and crime of the grandmother she never knew. Using archival news clips and scenes from the original Reconstruction, contemporary footage from Bucharest, and personal family interviews, Lusztig explores Romania’s history alongside her family’s personal history, showing the inextricable link between the two and the need to understand both in order to fully understand her grandmother’s mysterious story.
By 1959, it was clear that the utopia Communism had promised Romania was not going to be. Monica and her husband Gugu had been Communist activists early on, but became disillusioned with the oppressive, anti-Semitic Communist regime that resulted. Having given up on their hopes for a government they believed in, Monica and Gugu turned to adventure and pleasure-seeking. Romanian authorities alleged that Monica used stolen money from the heist to purchase a pleated gray skirt and an orange angora sweater. Material pleasures offered happiness and certainty that the government had taken from her.
“No one could convince her she was ruining her life,” Lusztig’s great aunt says of Monica, “and she was always ruining her life.” The bank robbery wouldn’t be the first time that impulsive behavior brought Monica great unhappiness. She had a long history of chasing impossible dreams and was always falling in love, taking on the idealistic ambitions of her husbands and making them her own. But the men left her, her dreams failed her, and as a result she failed the people who loved her.
Reconstruction explores the value of family and of forgiveness. Monica’s daughter, Lusztig’s mother, suffered tremendously because of her mother’s crime. While her mother was in prison, she was raised by an “uncreative aunt” and was full of resentment and animosity towards her mother for robbing her of a happy childhood. For years she silently carried the sorrow of the awful day the police came to take her parents away. It was only to help with Lusztig’s documentary that she returned to Bucharest, faced her painful childhood, and was able to look at her mother’s life with pity instead of contempt.
Unlike a typical crime-thriller, Reconstruction proves that the real-life criminal is complicated and can’t be fully understood from a few pieces of evidence and an extorted confession.