With grim absurdist humor, THE CONJUGAL BED chronicles the fatal odyssey of a Romanian cinema manager as he negotiates his way among the moneychangers and policemen, whores and politicians of the new, reformed state. Some horrifying sequences in this tale of contemporary Bucharest add a
layer of queasiness to the old aphorism that being Romanian is not a nationality, but a profession.
Potop Vasilev (Gheorghe Dinica) is the disgruntled manager of a movie theater--if he had had an education, he claims, he would have a better job. In an uncertain economy, he fears for the future, particularly since his wife Carolina (Coca Bloos) is pregnant with their third child; he wants her
to get an abortion, but can't afford to pay for one. Vasilev is having an affair with his part-time ticket seller, the leggy, blonde Stela (Lia Bugnar), who makes real money as a call-girl for foreign businessmen (the term she and her bland husband, Eugen (Geo Costiniu), rather slyly use is
"business company"). As if his life weren't difficult enough, odd things start happening at the theater. An avuncular policeman keeps coming by; a new political party wants to rent the place; a suicide occurs and Vasilev discovers several wads of unaccounted-for money. That would seem to solve the
question of his wife's abortion, but she has her own ideas on the subject. She donates the money to a monument to be raised to the martyred Ceausescus, whose symbol--a modified crucifix--is fashioned from the rotor blades of the helicopter in which they tried to make their escape. When he
protests, she blithely talks about selling her expected infant.
Vasilev tries to peddle a lavishly illustrated book about Ceausescu, drawing the attention of the secret police. (In what is presumably an irony rather than a continuity error, the book changes in the course of the film, appearing first as an English-titled hardcover, then as a Romanian language
paperback.) Vasilev is arrested and tortured. With flickering, jump-cut imagery and inter-titles about technical failures, there are glimpses of rape and beatings conducted within a moving tram with white-washed windows. Vasilev is even subjected to electro-shock treatments and confined for a time
in a madhouse.
Returning home, he discovers that Carolina has rented out the marriage bed to a porno film company which numbers Stela among its performers; his two sons eagerly sell soft-drinks to the crew and waiting extras. Distraught, Vasilev tries to kill himself on film, but he's discovered too soon and
revived: the major complaint is that he's ruined the shooting schedule. Later, he turns on his pregnant wife with knife and hammer, but his own anguish prevents a fatal result. A few days later, during the meeting of a new political party in the theater, he attempts suicide again behind the motion
picture screen. In an epilogue set in an even grimmer near future, Vasilev's third son propositions Stela, now a whore fast approaching middle-age. Their tryst is to take place in the same mirrored bed that opens the film.
The situation in Romania is a cynic's delight: it's the worst of all possible worlds, where corrupt capitalism and the illusion of freedom mask a political dictatorship little better than Ceausescu's brutal Communist regime. The film's nascent political party looks like a harbinger of renewed
totalitarianism: it adopts the rotor-blade as its symbol, re-enacts the rituals of the Ceausescu personality cult, and even issues red membership books like those of the old Romanian Communists. If earlier films (e.g., THE OAK, REQUIEM FOR DOMINIC) and observers like Andrei Codrescu have expressed
doubts about the depth of Romanian reforms, director Mircea Daneliuc depicts a situation that could drive almost anybody mad. The film's sole bright spot consists in its clever variations on the Dadaist tradition created, in part, by the Romanian Tristan Tzara. But that, of course, was in safe,
neutral, comfortable Geneva. (Profanity, sexual situations, nudity)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: With grim absurdist humor, THE CONJUGAL BED chronicles the fatal odyssey of a Romanian cinema manager as he negotiates his way among the moneychangers and policemen, whores and politicians of the new, reformed state. Some horrifying sequences in this tale… (more)