It's only a matter of degree. The absurdities of Tales From the Golden Age, a facetiously titled anthology of six "urban legends" of Romanian life in the waning days of the Ceausescu dictatorship, aren't that much crazier than everyday existence anywhere else in our paranoid world.
Consider that in a typical episode of The Office you will find a gentler, miniature version of the same kind of dissembling, bureaucratic idiocy and hierarchical kowtowing. The difference, of course, is that the employees of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. of Scranton, Pa., don't risk prison or worse after inadvertently offending a higher-up.
A prime example of the Kafkian logic that infuses Tales From the Golden Age is its second story, "The Legend of the Party Photographer" (the titles of all six are prefaced by "the legend of"), which dryly observes the hullabaloo over a picture in Scinteia, the Romanian Communist Party's daily newspaper.
At an editorial huddle, it is decided that a photograph of a ceremonial meeting between Nicolae Ceausescu and President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing of France must be doctored to make Ceausescu look taller than his visitor. That having been accomplished amid much fuss, it is suddenly pointed out that the French leader is wearing a hat in the picture, while Ceausescu carries his hat in his hand.
The frenzied editors fret that the photo depicts Communism deferring to capitalism, and a hat is airbrushed onto Ceausescu's head. All is calm until it is discovered after the paper has been printed that no one thought to erase the hat still in the dictator's hand. Again panic erupts, and bundles of newspapers are hastily unloaded from railroad cars. According to the legend scrawled at the end of the segment, it is the only time Scinteia didn't reach its readership the next day.
Tales From the Golden Age was overseen by Cristian Mungiu, the director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the dour masterpiece about a young woman's nightmarish search for an abortion, which is now viewed as a cornerstone of the Romanian new wave. The director has called Tales a folk film, as opposed to a festival film like 4 Months. It is a hearty satirical guffaw of gallows humor that illustrates how laughter helped buoy the spirits of an oppressed citizenry.
There are moments, especially in the first two tales, that conjure a maniacal Chaplinesque verve. In the first story, "The Legend of the Official Visit," villagers frantically sweep the streets in anticipation of a drive-through by a government motorcade. An advance team arrives and insists that a flock of white pigeons be rounded up to greet the officials, although the only local fowl available are Cornish hens. A merry-go-round is ordered dismantled, but it is not. After all that effort, the motorcade is rerouted at the last minute.
One World Film Festival: 'Tales From the Golden Age'
No MPAA rating. Sundance Selects. In Romanian with subtitles. 2:33.
When: 2 p.m. Feb. 24
Where: Central Library Farish Theater, 140 E. Main St.
Learn more: (859) 266-6073, Oneworldfilmfestival.org