Romania/Bulgaria/Hungary 2015, 130 mins, feature film, Romanian with English subtitles; Romanian title: De ce eu?
Q&A with actress Andreea Vasile
Cast: Emilian Oprea, Mihai Constantin, Andreea Vasile, Dan Condurache, Virgil Ogasanu
Synopsis: Cristian, a young idealistic prosecutor whose career is on the rise, tries to crack a case against a senior colleague accused of corruption. The dilemma of choosing between his career and the truth weighs heavily on his shoulders. Pursuing a solution, he enters a danger zone paved with unexpected and painful revelations.
On April 10th 2002, Romanian prosecutor Cristian Panait committed suicide by throwing himself from the 4th floor of his residence in Bucharest. He was only 29. A year before, he had been appointed prosecutor at the Department of Criminal Investigation and Criminal Prosecution of the Supreme Court of Justice. One particular case he was working on at the time was that of prosecutor Alexandru Lele, from Oradea city, who had ordered the arrest of Adrian Tărău, son of the very influential Bihor county prefect, on charges of complicity in the smuggling of petroleum products. Panait's mission was to investigate prosecutor Lele for corruption and to document theft allegations. According to media reports, Panait refused to charge Lele due to lack of evidence, but in less than a month he took his own life. In August 2002, the case was closed after a “post-mortem psychiatric evaluation” allegedly proved the prosecutor to have been mentally unstable. No other hypothesis, such as “facilitating” or “determining” the suicide, was ever pursued.
I have been interested in making a film about the real story of prosecutor Cristian Panait since 2005.
(...) Panait did not indict prosecutor Lele (Leca, in our film), because there was not enough evidence against him, and he felt himself to be a player in a grotesque masquerade set up by the very people who were supposed to be the models of the judiciary system. Panait gave up, and ultimately became a post- mortem hero of the fight against a corrupt system, which remains largely unreformed to this day. Many voices in the civil society have claimed that Panait was, in fact, “suicided”. His case has become symptomatic for many countries that are (still) trying to fight against the idea that justice can be bought, and that everything is for sale.
The film about Panait/ Panduru is, to a certain extent, the film about the failure of my generation – the failure to change Romania’s social and political environment. It’s about the idealistic people who were educated under communism and then experienced the 1989 Revolution, all full of high ideals. A generation that believed the political changes brought on by the 1989 revolution would trigger a final break away from the “old system”, which is mob-ridden and corrupt. But we were wrong. Now, just as in 2002, the year Panait died, the reality of Romanian society is harsh. Former Securitate officers and active members of the actual SRI (the “new” Secret Service) have monopolized important businesses, as well as important political positions. In 2002, the fight between the secret services of the army, police, judiciary and the government (which inherited the old Securitate apparatus) reached its climax. Business was conducted behind closed doors under the serene patronage of the state’s ruling class, composed of representatives of the former communist power, now “rebranded” as social-democrats. Smuggling oil by-products was a huge source of income for the officers of the secret services, with the benevolent support of the politicians. What odds to succeed would that grant to people with strong moral backbones, like prosecutors Panduru or Leca?
In such a context, Leca’s initiative to arrest a high government official for smuggling was absolutely unique and had to be punished in an exemplary manner. The system delegated young prosecutor Panduru to do just that. Soon after, Panduru found himself faced with a radical moral choice.
Seen from another perspective, the film is about an organized criminal system, whose members were magistrates. Instead of pulling out guns, they pulled out handcuffs against each other, in order to make sure the mafias and politicians could go on with their business undeterred. And, lost in this bestiary, ‘good guy’ Cristian Panduru – the young prosecutor who found no other solution to leave the system. And no other price for it.
A film so strongly grounded in reality can be made in a thousand ways. I am very much preoccupied with disassembling the mechanisms by which a man, who is strong both physically as well as figuratively, can come to take his own life within no more than 20 days. What internal mechanism is activated, when you find that the entire system within which you are working is corrupt and rotten to its very core? This is a film about the rapid disintegration of a man who has chosen to fight the system from within. (...)