When George Becali's limousine was stolen in 2009, he didn't call the police. Instead, Becali - one of the wealthiest men in Romania - turned to his personal bodyguards. They tracked down the alleged thieves, then captured and tortured them. Becali was imprisoned briefly. Soon after his release, he was elected to the European Parliament.
Few stories better illustrate contemporary Romanian economic and political realities: the fluid line between private wealth and political power, and the egos of wealthy men who see their own actions as above the law.
Becali is one of the rich and powerful Romanian magnates who have dominated the post-Communist Romanian economy, and to whom filmmaker Alexandru Solomon introduces us in his startling documentary Kapitalism: Our Secret Recipe.
With the 1989 fall of the Ceausescu regime the future seemed bright. Freed from its tyranny, Romanians looked forward to a capitalist, entrepreneurial age marked by freedom and a higher standard of living.
Twenty years later, Romania has the smallest GDP of all former Communist countries, with a third of the economy controlled by a small group of millionaires. Meanwhile, spending on infrastructure has stagnated: Romania's roads rank 110th in the world. Kapitalism: Our Secret Recipe seeks to understand how this came to pass - how public assets enriched very few, to the detriment of the country.
Rather than trying to understand the elite from a distance, Solomon sits down with them and asks them pointed questions. And they are surprisingly forthcoming in their responses.
Take Dan Voiculescu, the Vice-President of the Romanian Senate, who leveraged a job with a state-controlled export company into a net worth in the billions. Speaking in his palatial home, under an oil painting of himself, Voiculescu makes no apologies: a small group of people were in a position to get rich, and they did.
Then there's Dinu Patriciu, who bought a state-owned oil refinery valued at 615 million Euros for only 50 million Euros - then sold it a few years later for two billion. By its very nature, capitalism in a transitional period is "immoral" he says.
Intermingled with the interviews, are whimsical but effective animated sequences that use clay, LEGO and Playmobil to visually highlight key points and clearly demonstrate labyrinthine transactions. In addition to its personal interviews with the oligarchs, Kapitalism also depicts them at a distance, on television screens overlooking Bucharest, for instance. Here, they are remote, unapproachable - as most Romanians would experience them.
Ultimately, what Kapitalism suggests is that not much has changed over the last 20 years. The film imagines Ceausescu returning from the dead to tour the country now, and finding much to like. "You have maintained the three pillars of the Communist Party," this imaginary Ceausescu tells a group of assembled magnates. "Prejudice. Corruption. Relationships."
"A beautifully shot and produced survey of the first two decades of Romanian capitalism." —Society for Romanian Studies Newsletter
2011 Romanian Film Festival in NYC, The Film Society of Lincoln Center
London International Documentary Film Festival, 2011
International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), 2010
Nominee, Prix Europa 2010
Transylvania Film Festival, 2010
"Solomon's approach--a mixture of seriousness and humor similar to that of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock--makes for a film that is both enlightening and engaging. Recommended." —Video Librarian
"An eye-opening look at the Balkan nation's millionaires and the ways they've co-opted the corruption put in place by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu." —Variety
"Succeeds in illustrating highly complex economic processes in an easily understandable manner" —Nisimazine