Fictitious Nonfiction

Army Shots (1914-1931)

Photo credits: The National Film Archive

silent films, films with lost soundtrack, shorts, actualities, fiction movie, runtime: 78:10 minutes
music: Mihaela Vasiliu
guest: Adrian Cioflâncă (historian and filmmaker)

Charles I visits the Military School of Infantry (p. „Pathé” – Bucureşti, d./i. Svoboda?, 1914)
The War for Unifying the Nation (p. Cinematographic Service of the Romanian Army, i.: Constantin Ianovici, Tudor Posmantir, Nicolae Barbelian, 1920)
Ecaterina Teodoroiu (incomplete, feature film, fiction, historical, p. “Soremar-Film”, d. Ion Niculescu-Brună, i. Leo Schwedler, actors: Felicia Frunză, Marietta Rareş, Mielu Constantinescu, Aristide Ştefănescu, 1931)*

*remastered with the support of the National Film Archive

Cinema has seen much and has shown us all. Knowing this now – and knowing it all too well –, the films in this selection retain a certain strangeness precisely because, following an established image, they deny its reverse shots.
1914: sometime in April, Charles I visits the Military School of Infantry to see its students bend over backwards in a small military choreography of marching and riposte: an idle battle exercise, thus against no one, the much-feared enemy being a self-evident convention. Moreover, a fumble in continuity remains utterly memorable – stood to the right of the camera, the students prepare to fire the rifle, but come to fire it only in the following shot, this time framed to the left, as if shooting at themselves.
Later, images from The War for Unifying the Nation show how, “while the storm grows near, the King (…), in the quiet of the park at Sinaia, follows the events with a certain unease.” The smell of gunpowder starts being noticed on the streets of Bucharest. “We live in a time of Romanian neutrality. The capital leads days of passion and unrest,” declares one of the first titles for Ecaterina Teodoroiu. 1916: the papers Universul and Dimineața headline the front page on Romania’s entry in the war. The three films may brilliantly serve a chronological reenactment of the unionist cause, though this isn’t why we’ve brought them together, but for a certain study in setting and shot.
Sending those few filmmakers into battle meant establishing the first state film studio in national history, the Photographic and Cinematographic Service of the Romanian Army (PCSRA), which reared Tudor Posmantir (corporal), Constantin Ivanovici (soldier) and Nicolae Barbelian (?). What little is left in the National Film Archive bears the generic title of The War for Unifying the Nation and it is, in fact, a compilation of footage from between 1914 and 1919, surprising precisely because at no point can one spot any enemies. Always nicely framed, the soldiers seem to be in a continuous battle with the borders of the profilmic space, beyond which can be surmised enemies meters or kilometers away, or nowhere in the distance. “The battle is dreadful. Facing the foe’s formidable makings, the small, but battle-tried Romanian army…” Only the foe, the reverse shot, does not reveal its face or body in any corner of the shot. Such newsreels were being made the world over and had the very clear and urgent purpose of moralizing the yet civilian public. And the cinema of the time was no stranger to ad hoc stagings of facts and dangers barely overcome, the so-called “reenacted newsreels”, at times by the order of evidence, at others kept under document seal. We know for certain that Posmantir and Ivanovici were there and put their lives on the line, yet nothing I’ve seen convinced me that their cameras – unwieldy – did verily film the firing and not a firing, the explosion and not an explosion. After battlefield newness turns to history, the PCSRA follows up with a “reenacted documentary”, Nicolae Barbelian’s feature about the heroine Ecaterina Teodoroiu (1921), whose story would be taken up again ten years later by Ion Niculescu-Brună. Until then, 1921 also saw the release of the newsreel montage Heroic Evocations, for which, suspects film critic Manuela Cernat, shots from twinning fiction were borrowed. The same Service couples Niculescu-Brună (actor) and Barbelian (operator) for Duty and Sacrifice (dir. Ion Șahighian, 1925), a wartime romance whose director uses documentary newsreels to fill in for battlefield scenes, as would be done by Eftimie Vasilescu in The Nation’s Valiant (1926), even re-editing shots from Abel Gance’s J’accuse! (1919), a canonical film for the hybrid battlefield genre. Thus, it’s no extravagance that Ecaterina Teodoroiu’s preserved thirties version also has Queen Marie visit wounded soldiers, but only the mark of a little-known filmic tradition. Likewise, the veterans’ involvement as extras and one commissar Pompilian’s as himself comes as a supplement to the army’s long-standing interest in painting itself well in its own, PCSRA-style cinema, as well as in others’. But I’m still bothered by another one of Manuela Cernat’s speculations, that Niculescu-Brună had used shots from Barbelian’s reenactment as newsreels. And, though Queen Marie seems to me veracious in the preserved reel, I admit I’m no longer certain of anything. (Călin Boto)

Mihaela Vasiliu resides and works in Bucharest under the pseudonym Chlorys, a musical and visual entity. She has studied visual arts at the Department of Dynamic Image and Photography at the University of Arts in Bucharest. A large part of her activity is conducted on the clubbing scene, as a DJ and a party promoter. She has played music both on the local scene (Bucharest, Timișoara, Cluj-Napoca) and abroad (Berlin, Stockholm, London, Lyon, Nantes, Paris). Part of the Queer Night family, she is a Shape Platform 2017 resident artist. Since 2016, she is a founding member of the Corp, platform, together with Cosima Opârtan and Admina, seeking representation and promoting queer identities (trans, non-binary, etc.). For the past three years, she has been a Noods Radio (Alien Flora show) and a Black Rhino Radio resident – Corpcast (along with Corp). She has showcased in art galleries like Suprainfinit Gallery, Anexa MNAC, Ivan Gallery, etc. Invited in 2021 to POST MUZICA a program curated by M. Micleușanu (Rezidența9): “To seek words (or sounds) is to already foment silence, to drum it as to extract a known and easily named flux, something that is not yet an idea, but rather the force of possibility. All this movement, all this language glides like deep matter – a resonant body full of voice; a voice full of silence.” (Chlorys)

According to the contractual requirements imposed by the Romanian Film Center (RFC), we have separated the video source from the audio. The system of automatic synchronization, developed for the apps utilized, can present small delays depending on the (Internet) transfer speed and your device (desktop, phone, etc.).
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