This article comparatively explores the reception of Sergiu Nicolaescu’s film Zile fierbinți (Hot Days, 1975) in socialist and postsocialist Romania and China. Received as a propagandistic film in one postsocialist context, the film is understood as a gesture toward social change in another. While the film began to be considered a paragon of propagandistic indoctrination in Romania after the fall of communism, in China Nicolaescu’s work was and continues to be interpreted as a celebration of the individual under socialism and, at the time of its screening, resonated with the restructuring of the communist system during the Deng Xiaoping reform era. Drawing on 1970s Romanian film criticism, the author shows that the postsocialist-era reading of the film’s protagonist as an authoritarian symbol of Romania’s political dictatorship misses that socialist realism and the film de actualitate genres played an important role in negotiating a working-class response to the one-party state, while also gesturing toward certain reforms of Romanian state socialism. The author also reinterprets the figure of the film’s protagonist, the socialist leader, as an invitation for more active political engagement and as a symbol of the potential restructuring of the Romanian economy along the more progressive lines of Yugoslavia’s “worker self-management” and Hungary’s “Gulash Communism.”

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