International title: Then I Sentenced Them All to Death
Info: I embedded the full movie below.
The story of Atunci i-am condamnat pe toţi la moarte takes place in Romania during the last days of World War II. Then, the country was occupied by German military. The story is mainly told through the perspective of a young boy who, after being raised in an orphanage, is taken in bis his sister and her husband, the priest Ioan. They live in a small village with many German soldiers present. One day, a German soldier is found dead and the officer gives the people an ultimatum to present the murderer. The leaders of the village, i.e. the mayor, the priest, the doctor and the notary, decide to talk the local idiot, Todor, into confessing to the murder – even though he is innocent. However, as Todor is the closest friend of the young boy, things don’t go exactely as planned.
WHAT I LIKE
The movie has a very straightforward premise and the plot is clearly structured: the viewer only sees, what the boy actually witnesses. The somewhat innocent or naïve perspective makes for some heartfelt moments, i.e. when serious moments are combined with child’s play. This happens mainly in the scenes when Todor and the boy spend time together, especially when they engage in a play gunfight. Because both actors deliver authentic and strong performances, their relationship seems real, making the story believable and the ending plausible. Visually, the movie looks great, with beautiful and spot-on framing that highlights the characters emotions in close-ups (e.g., during the dinner sequence), as well as in the more frantic moments (e.g., when the German soldier rides his horse in the field). Due to the many close-up shots focusing on the characters’ faces and hands, the movie has a claustrophobic quality that works great (e.g., when Ioan and the boy talk in the church), considering the plot is about a village occupied by enemy forces.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE
Because the plot is completely told from the perspective of a young boy, the central themes remain vague well into a third of the movie. This mainly concerns the main characters’ motives and the central conflict, which could have been established at an earlier time point – conflict hereby meaning the troubled relationship between Todor and the village leaders and not the murder, which is only meant to jump-start the plot. Even though most actors do a great job in portraying their characters, it’s never quite clear, why Todor is supposed to be the village idiot or in what way the problematic relationship between Ioan and his wife contributes to the plot. These aspects – alongside the unsolved murder – are logical, when considering that the story is told from the perspective of a young boy who remains largely passive throughout the movie; but the lack of background information is still somewhat bothersome.
Atunci i-am condamnat pe toţi la moarte (international title: Then I Sentenced Them All to Death) is a drama set in the last days of World War II in a small Romanian village. The mysterious death of a German soldier kicks off events that lead to the village leaders trying to convince the local idiot to take the blame for the murder. Apart from the strong and obvious social commentary about the exploitative behavior of people in higher social classes, the movie simply looks stunning with a great sense of framing that makes several moments feel chillingly claustrophobic. In addition, most actors portray their characters authentically, which makes the dramatic elements, as well as the more light-hearted moments believable.
– The director, Sergiu Nicolaescu, was one of the most influential directors in Romanian cinema. Being a self-taught technician, he started making movies in the 1960s and quickly gained popularity in Eastern Europe, especially with his Iron Guard series. He directed 50 movies during his lifetime and often also played parts in them (cp., in Atunci i-am condamnat pe toţi la moarte he played the role of Commander von Eck because he could speak German). Because of his immense public standing, he was even voted member of the Romanian Parliament after the revolution in the early 1990s.
– The movie, as well as its remake A Farewell to Fools , are based on the 1970 short story “Moartea lui Ipu” (“The Death of Ipu”) by Titus Popovici, who also wrote the screenplay. Interestingly, Nicolaescu claimed that the story is based on his idea, which he discussed with Popovici in the late 1960s. Allegedly, there was also a copy of the story with both Nicolaescu and Popovici listed as co-authors but it was never publically available.