A mysterious bank robbery in communist Romania (1959), an event that seemed unimaginable at that moment, has become inspiration for films over the last 50 years. First, the communist regime made a propaganda film to reconstitute the robbery, with the authors playing themselves, then, after fall of communism, it has become the subject of a documentary. Last is the Hollywood style comedy drama “Closer to the Moon”, by the Romanian director Nae Caranfil and starring Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong. From the historical perspective, a question is still without a clear answer: what was the real motivation of the six people who commited the robbery?
In 1959, when the robbery was commited, Romania was under a repressive communist rule and stealing an amount equivalent to 250 000 USD was suicide. The six who commited the robbery were all former members of communist regime, but at that moment they were isolated: they were Jews and the new policy enforced by the Party included removing all the “foreigners” from key position and replacing them with Romanians. Thus, the regime turned to its nationalistic ages, from the time when, immediately after the WW2, many communists were linked to USSR, with the Red Army in Romania. But the six who were removed were not only simple members of the Party, but former members of the resistance.
Captured by Militia (the police), they were forced to play themselves in a propaganda film to be shown only to the party officials called “Reconstruction” and designated to show how vigilent were the state authorities. The film shows also the Stalinist trial of the six persons (five men and a woman), nicknamed “The Ioanid Gang” (Ioanid being the leader). They were sentenced to death, only the woman being sent to life prison, because she was pregnant.
The story was secret during communism, but media started to talk about it after fall of communism, in 90s. Documentary film director Alexandru Solomon mada a film called “Great Communist Bank Robbery“, in 1989. He suceeded to interview some officials involved and relatives of the “gang”.
“Closer to the Moon” (2014), by Nae Caranfil, is a comedy-drama inspired by the robbery story. It succesfully recreates the atmosphere of that period of time and brings on the camera great characters. The film was shot in Romania and is in English, not in Romanian, for comercial reasons. Caranfil inovates, introducing an explanation of the robbery: it was a suicidal act of protest against the regime. Later, he said in an interview: ” I believe that it makes sense in my fiction movie, but I don’t believe this was really the truth. But I decided to give this meaning to the story because otherwise it would have looked like a simple, common robbery”.