Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Poet and Critic Nina Cassian's Introduction to the US Premiere of "The Great Communist Bank Robbery"

In 1959, a car belonging to the Romanian National Bank carrying $1.6 million in cash was allegedly held up at gunpoint in Bucharest. Six Jews, all former elite members of the Communist Party, were arrested. To avoid a death sentence, they agreed to play themselves in a propaganda film and to re-enact the crime and the investigation. The cameras continued to roll at trial; still, the accused were promptly executed. While exploring various theories on the robbery, filmmaker Alexandru Solomon 'deconstructs' Romania's tragic and complex history.

On January 24 and 25, 2007, Nina Cassian introduced the US premiere of The Great Communist Bank Robbery by Alexandru Solomon. She also read selections from her poetry. Nina Cassian is regarded as one of Romania’s most prominent literary figures. She is a poet, playwright, short story writer, illustrator, composer, journalist, critic, and translator. In 1985 she received political asylum in the United States.

The following is Nina Cassian's introduction to “The Great Communist Bank Robbery.” Two of her poems follow.


"I could say "enjoy" the next movie - Alexander Solomon's GREAT COMMUNIST BANK ROBBERY -- even if the subject itself is not exactly enjoyable! But the film is certainly a most striking revivification of a most spectacular moment in Romanian post World War II history.

I've been asked to speak to you tonight because I'm probably one of the few survivors who knew any of the participants in this bleak event. I knew three of them, of whom only one - the woman involved - I did know well. Her name was Monica Seveanu, a young communist, who had been my superior "contact" (as in the French Resistance) with the Young Communists during the war. After the war, we lost touch.

But some fifteen years later, in 1961, some of us would be summoned to the Party's official paper headquarters to see a film which had been made as a "reconstruction" of that already famous bank robbery - the details of which you will be seeing in Mr. Solomon's film. To my amazement and stupefaction, I recognized Monica in it, her husband, whom I had known only slightly, and Sasha Mushat - who, at the time I met them, both seemed to me to be adventurous, if not true adventurers. Though one of them had been a spy, I never met the other three, but if I recall correctly, one of them was a scientist, another was in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Anyway, they were all brilliant young people.

As a first reaction, I thought that the so-called "reconstruction" was a staging of the event, a fake or a fiction, with a pronounced anti-Semitic flavor. I mean, how was it possible for young, honest people, all of them Jewish intellectuals, who had risked their lives fighting clandestinely for an ideal - probably a Utopia - to become genuine bank robbers? Of course, we were all disappointed to see our generous ideal turned into a bloody dictatorship. I myself wrote numerous subversive poems which the censorship couldn't decipher, or actually, didn't care, since a poem could never change a regime!

But back to the robbery: to conceive and perform such an outrageous act in order to achieve what? A kind of protest? Or was it just for money? We were told that Monica's husband, who was also a pilot, was presumably expected to fly the members of the gang to
Israel. What could they have done in Israel with little valued Romanian currency? It didn't make sense.

In any case, ten years passed again -- during which time all the participants in the robbery were executed, except Monica. Around then, she paid me an unexpected visit, asking for an autograph on one of my children's books. Whereupon I asked her: "Wasn't that whole movie they showed us a fake?" "No," she said, "indeed, we did it! I had to find money for my starving children." So, I had to admit reality. It had really happened. But still...

Alexander Solomon has made a remarkably objective retelling of this sad story. A real tragedy. He did an exhaustive job of interviewing all the people he could find who had been involved in any way with this misguided adventure. Friends, relatives, acquaintances, even enemies of the participants. And he artfully selected movie sequences from the original dubious "reconstruction" film, and skillfully shaped this documentary from them and whatever else he could find out. As you will see, there are still a number of unanswered questions. It's up to you to make a final judgment."

-Nina Cassian, January 2007



And when summer comes to an end
it's like the world coming to an end.
Wilderness and terror - everywhere!

Days shrink
till all dignity's gone.
Wet slabs of cloth
drape our bodies:
dejected coats.
And then we shiver, stumbling
into the holes of Winter Street
on the corner of Decline...

What's the good of living
with the idea of Spring
- dangerous as any Utopia?


The wheel is not in my hands
The wheel is over my head;
no one turns it left
or right: the vessel is dead still.
The wheel rests like a spider
fixed on my wooden sky.
What is it doing there?
It's a helm gone mad.
What could it possibly steer
on the vertical road of the Nowhere Sea?
And why does the helm not move
in this world so rich in helmsmen?
The wind at least could have set it in motion.
Where is the somnambulant bat to give it a turn?
Where is the moon to alter its shape,
lengthen the spokes and flatten the contour
so that it is more of a fish?
The vessel's voyage must end here;
the helm is insane, it cannot steer.

-Nina Cassian

1 comment:

Alexandru Solomon said...

I'm very happy and honored that the film was screened at NYJFF and that Nina Cassian presented it. I'ld like to know, of course, some reactions from the public, how did it went.