Framing The City: Planeta Petrila

Planeta Petrila (2016)

What if European regulations dictate a total demolishment of the most important building in your town? You could passively wait until the destruction takes place. You could also make something fun out of it. Andrei Dascalescu followed Ion Barbu for three years. It was a period of beautiful protest. The result? Planeta Petrila (2016), a film about a world full of dishonesty, solidarity and art.

Body and Soul

The coal mine in Petrila is the body and soul of this Romanian city. It’s the source of income for most of the city’s inhabitants and the pivotal point of the community. The mine brings people together and lets them connect with each other. Sure, the working circumstances are hard, even dangerous. Many people died here, but those who survived try to make the best of it.

Planeta Petrila depicts the beautiful solidarity among the mineworkers while they are underground, risking their lives for a living. These tough men make jokes to make each other laugh and forget the situation they are in. But they also take care of each other. The scene in the shower room represents these men in their most vulnerable state. They wash each other’s backs without having any shame. After all, they are all the same. They will all lose their jobs in the near future.

Creative Protest

The news about the demolishment of the mine is received with a lot of disbelief. The disappearance will have huge consequences for the city and its inhabitants. However, this negativity was a beautiful source of inspiration for former mineworker and artist Ion Barbu. During the three years that followed after the announcement of the destruction of the coal mine, Barbu organised several playful and creative protests against it.

The underground solidarity between the mineworkers also appeared on the streets of Petrila. People joined Barbu in painting the walls of the fabric and the bridge that connects the mine with the city. They painted colourful scenes and satirical or critical texts such as: “ People used to play and sing in Petrila” and “The secret of happiness in Patrila is…” This street art is not only a way to express people’s feelings about the demolishment, but it also makes the city look happier.

Moreover, Barbu organised a colourful and musical parade on the street for which people dressed up like bees, magicians, clowns and so on. An underground theatre festival would follow soon. It’s beautiful to see that Barbu doesn’t have to protest on his own. He gets a lot of support of Petrila’s inhabitants. What the title song said is true. Petrila is a hopeless city but it contains a lot of love. Love for their city, but also for each other.
It’s clear: Barbu wants to be seen. He tries to attract the attention for the coal mine by performing in public spaces. Several times, he asks the cameraman: “Are you recording this?” to make sure he captures memorable moments of the preparation of his next protest project, hoping that not only inhabitants of Petrila but people all over the world will see his art.

Bitter Sweet Memories

The destruction of a part of the fabric (the part on which they painted Warhol’s well-known soup can) doesn’t hold Barbu back from protesting. He continues and paints all the names of the mineworkers who died by an accident in the mine on a wall. Even when the mine is totally demolished, Barbu wants to have the last word. He organises a funeral and buries the very last coal the mineworkers got out of the mine of Petrila. Again, the city’s inhabitants support him.

Nowadays, they can gather in the museum, about the mine, Barbu realised. In this way, the museum has more or less the same function as the mine had. It brings people of Petrila together. Their solidarity will overcome every struggle the city comes across.

This Essay Framing the City article was published in February 2019