In movies, change often proceeds quickly from small, fearless acts of dissent. Graffiti left on a wall, for example, like that which begins Uppercase Print — a scathing Brechtian dramatisation of real events in Botosani, Romania, circa 1981. “We want justice and freedom,” the slogan reads. The words were written in capitals and blue chalk, 12cm high. The revolution did not follow, at least not soon enough. We know this already. We are told much else about the case in dread and minute detail.

The film is an adaptation of the play by Gianina Carbunariu that took its dialogue in turn from the files of the investigation by the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. Rousing speeches are scarce. In their place are jittery witnesses and the flat affect of secret policemen. Shortly, there is more graffiti — “We are sick of waiting in huge queues”. Next, tracking dogs and child informants.

Director Radu Jude has his cast speak down the barrel of the camera on a starkly minimal set. But he has a stylistic ace to play, cutting back and forth throughout to the magic kingdom of contemporary Romanian television, drawn from the national archive. In Botosani, the detective story grows ever more brutal. On screen, we see surreally jaunty light entertainment shows, salutes to national excellence in fridge manufacture. There is the circus, Jude suggests, and then there is the truth. The film is austere but its power doesn’t fade.

★★★★☆

On Mubi in the UK now