Past Imperfect,

Romanian Film Festival
4th edition
26-29 April 2007

Curzon Mayfair
38 Curzon Street
London W1J 7TY

The Great Communist Bank Robbery

Documentary / Romania / 2004 / 75 min / colour & b/w / English subtitles
Director: Alexandru Solomon


One quiet morning in August 1959, a car belonging to the National Bank of Romania was robbed in front of a central office in Bucharest. Four armed and masked men and one woman ran away with a huge amount of money, high-jacking a taxi. Less than a year later, a one-hour film on the robbery was already fascinating audiences throughout Romania. After they were caught, only months after the attack, the ‘gangsters’ agreed to play their own parts in this would-be ‘reconstruction’ scripted by Romania’s Political Police.


“Alexandru Solomon’s film is both a bizarre recreation of a crime of which the motive is still difficult to fathom and an astonishing evocation of a lost world of Romanian Stalinism.” (Nick Fraser, Storyville Series Editor, BBC)

Director’s Statement

“This is a political detective story about a group of communists who lost their faith in the communist regime and decided to express their disillusionment through a public performance: a bank robbery. The crowning of their performance was the shooting of a film which apparently reconstructed the bank heist. But from that moment on, the ‘gangsters’ became part of another performance they could no longer control: they became puppets of propaganda.”


2005: Prize for Social Values, Documenta Madrid
2005: Grand Prix, Mediawave Gyor, Hungary
2005: Best Director, Hungarian-Romanian Dok Festival, Sf. Gheorghe, Romania
2004: Prix du Film d’Histoire, Festival du Film d’Histoire, Pessac, France


Born in 1966, Alexandru Solomon graduated in 1991 from The National University of Drama and Cinematography, Bucharest, Camera and Cinematography section. While working on documentaries, Alexandru Solomon also worked as cinematographer for some of the best Romanian directors (Andrei Blaier, Mircea Daneliuc, Stere Gulea).

Selected filmography

2004: The Great Communist Bank Robbery; documentary, 75 min, colour & b/w – director, screenwriter
2002: The Bread of Exile; documentary, 26 min and 10 min – director
2001: The Man with Thousand Eyes; documentary, 52 min and 26 min – director
1999: A Dog’s Life; 23 min – director
1997: Fortress Guard; documentary, 24 min – director 1996: Zurich Chronicle; art documentary, 40 min – director
1995: Via Regis; documentary, 62 min – director
1994: Duo for Paoloncello and Petronome; art documentary, 28 min – director
1993: Shriek into the Ear-Drum; documentary, 27 min – director. With Radu Igazsag
1993: 2 X 5; video-art, 4 min – director. With artist Geta Bratescu
1992: Earthcake; video-art, 7 min – director. With artist Geta Bratescu


Bank-robbing apparatchiks are not really the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about communist Romania of the 1950s. In the popular imagination, committed communists wake up early in the morning, sing mobilizing songs and go to work in steel factories. They do not rob banks. Or do they? But were they truly committed communists in the first place? And actually, did they really rob that bank?

The title of this film points simultaneously to a classic of early cinema (E.S.Porter’s Great Train Robbery) and to a clash of imaginary systems. This is, again, a story about individual memory vs. public history, and about trying to match the reverberations of a historical event in the public memory, with the shifting landscapes of individual remembrance.

But The Great Communist Bank Robbery is also about good quality cinema, where the fluid camerawork and elaborated shots bridge the Eastern European tradition of the ‘artistic documentary’ with the recent international interest in the flamboyant visibility of theatrical documentary.

This is a contemporary investigation built on the shoulders of a would-be documentary. A chilly story set in those times when it was easy to be transformed overnight into an ‘enemy of the state’, by a chilly voice-over saying “These people have nothing in common with the construction of socialism in Romania”. The camera never lies. (A.B.)