(Romania/USA, 76 min.)
Dir. Livia Ungur, Sherng-Lee Huang
Programme: Artscapes (Canadian Premiere)
This quirky doc shows audiences that Romania had limited viewing options on TV during the Ceausescu era: Communist propaganda and Dallas. Hotel Dallas humorously reveals how the Communist Party’s plan backfired when it tried to alert Romanians to the depraved morals of America by offering a trashy soap opera as the image of capitalist society. Romanians loved the guilty thrill of JR Ewing and company as much as North American audiences did, both for the silly debauchery and for the escapism.
Livia Unger, one of the film’s directors, pits herself as one of the characters of Hotel Dallas’s cast as she shares her fascination with the 1980s soap opera, including a crush on Bobby, and conveys how this slice of Americana gave Romanians something to which they could aspire during hard times. The pleasure of Dallas, Livia conveys, isn’t the sexy intrigue or the wealth: it’s simply the image of an alternative to institutionalised poverty. The directors convey this sense of escapism remarkably well through interviews with peers, including one who recalls crying at the sight of real cheese, and the story of Unger’s own departure to New York.
Fans of Romanian New Wave cinema are bound to relish Hotel Dallas just as much as Livia and her friends love the soap opera that motivated it. The film is refreshingly offbeat and innovative as it mixes abstractions, dramatizations, and outrageous musical numbers with more conventional elements of documentary, all of which illuminate the almost tragic absurdity of the tale. This entertaining work of art is a delightful intersection of cultures.
Hotel Dallas screens:
-Saturday, April 30 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 6:30 PM
-Sunday, May 1 at Cineplex Scotiabank at 2:00 PM
-Friday, May 6 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:45 PM
Please visit the POV Hot Docs hub for more coverage on this year’s festival.
Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit www.hotdocs.ca for more information.