In 1989 country after country in Central and Eastern Europe shifted from rule by Communist dictatorships to rule by constitutional democracies. In every case but one the transitions were nonviolent. Indeed, Czechoslovakia's evolution in that year was so smooth that it became known as a velvet revolution. The exception was Romania, where Nicolae Ceauşescu, longtime general secretary of the Romanian Communist party, and his wife, Elena, were summarily executed by a firing squad armed with Kalashnikov rifles after a one-hour trial on Christmas Day 1989.

This method of execution presumably was not influenced by the popularity in Romania at that time of Hollywood action heroes armed with automatic weapons. However, as this absorbing documentary film illustrates, many Romanians throughout the 1980s loved watching bootlegged...

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