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Corneliu Porumboiu on The Treasure, modern filmmaking, industry and more
© Tara Karajica
First Publication: June 2015
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Few weeks before he sets foot on the island of Syros for his first major retrospective on Greek soil -at Syros International Film Festival-Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu was interviewd by our friends Tara Karajica and the Festivalists during the last Transilvania Film Fest. His recently awarded at Cannes The Treasure (Romania/France, 2015) along with his thoughts on modern filmmaking and film industry provide the ground for discussion.

When you read “TIFF”, what is the first event that comes to mind? Toronto, Tokyo, Thessaloniki? Well, at that time of the year and after 14 very successful editions, T can stand only forTransilvania. The Romanian TIFF is actually located in Cluj-Napoca, the birth place of festival director and filmmaker Tudor Giurgiu, yet, naturally, “Transilvania” brands better. A must-stop for international industry professionals and local cinephiles, TIFF is also the perfect place to catch up with crème de la crème of Romanian cinema, right after a handful of world premieres in Cannes, as it is now a tradition. This is why Tara Karajica used the opportunity to sit down with Corneliu Porumboiu, one of Romanian New Wave’s darlings and director of the newly awarded The Treasure right before his film picked also the Romanian Days Award for Best Feature Film on home turf. 

The Treasure (Romania/France, 2015)

Tara Karajica: Congratulations on your award in Cannes! That is certainly another significant recognition of your career. How do you feel about it?

Corneliu Porumboiu: I am happy, of course! And for me it is important to be in a festival like Cannes because afterward the chances of the movie are much better, in terms of distribution. Also, the prizes are very good, they help the movie…

In a way, your career mirrors the Romanian New Wave – it all started in Cannes…

Of course! The Romanian New Wave and these Romanian films started in Cannes ten years ago with The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu (Romania, 2005) by Cristi Puiu. People started watching these films, and we got international recognition. But, unfortunately, the Romanian culture is a marginal culture, and we live in a world where we need to be approved by someone from the outside.

For me, it all started in Cannes as well. I was there for the first time in 2004 with my graduation film A Trip To The City (Romania, 2003), I took the Second Prize of the Cinéfondation, and I did a residence in Cannes. Then I returned in 2006 with 12:08 East of Bucharest [Camera d΄Or winner], then with Police, Adjective (Romania, 2009), Jury Prize - Un Certain Regard, and now. I had four films there, and for me, it was essential because it gives you certain type of trust in what you are doing and at the same time, it is much easier for raising money and things like that.

What is the follow up on the initial Cannes hype now, as far as the Romanian New Wave is concerned, in terms of the international perception and praise?

There are a lot of offers. We are this Nouvelle Vague, but I think that each one of us has his own style and makes his own films. I don’t know. I think that if we continue to make good films, we will be there, if not… [laughs] As far as the international praise is concerned, I did not expect to have this success when I started making films. At the same time, they talk about all of us, because it is a small country, and you do not expect to have five, six, seven, or ten directors – you have to put a mark. This is good but at the same time it can be a little bit restrictive.

Jessica Kiang wrote in her review for The Playlist that your new film confirms you as the Joker in the Romanian New Wave pack. Can you comment on that?

Ha-ha-ha! That is good! The Joker is like the card that surprises you every time! It is good! Yeah! When I am making a movie, I do not like to repeat myself, you know. Every film I make, I try to make it different than the last but at the same time I try to search and to push myself. Cinema is like a journey… Every film gives me something new, and I am lucky, in a way, that I have had all this recognition thanks to which my movie are sold and seen. So, I will continue to do this!

Police, Adjective (Romania, 2009)

Can you talk about The Treasure and its genesis?

In the beginning, a friend of mine, Adrian Purcarescu, told me this legend that his grandparents buried a treasure before the communists came to power. This legend was told in his village. In the beginning, we wanted to make a documentary, so we went there with a team and looked for the treasure, but we did not find anything. So I said: “OK! I will do a fiction film!”

You are known for adding a layer of criticism that defies the depressing humor of Eastern Europe into your critique of social realism and you expand upon the aesthetic configuration of the Romanian New Wave’s political and formal ideology. But your peers use a more straightforward approach. What is your explanation?

For me, each film is like a paradox because I am influenced by people, and I see the situation that is going on around me. In a way, I want to fix that but at the same time I realize that each movie is a certain type of construct. So, all that time in-between I think that I push too much sometimes and I like a certain type of aesthetic – in that case, I use this camera and it is a little bit detached. So, yeah, it comes from that, from trying to fix thing. At the same time, I realized that it is a construct, that each of these directors has his own note, that maybe I have a sense of humor that is quite absurd and that I developed it in time, I think.

You also have proven to be in tune with both the limitations and budding possibilities of the New Romanian cinema, right?

Yes, because I ask myself about our conditions here. We are a marginal country, and we are all the time in-between things, you know… So I ask all these questions and when I am making movies, I become conscious of this type of marginalization. When I made When Evening Falls On Bucharest Or Metabolism (Romania/France, 2013) I thought, in a way, that I started to learn cinema and to do it. Yeah, I question all this all the time.

According to you, where do you see your place in the Romanian New Wave?

I do not know, I think each one of us is very different. In a way, I am afraid… I do not like to compare myself. OK, I like the work of Cristi Puiu, I like the work of Cristian Mungiu, but, at the same time, I also love Rohmer and Godard. I see myself more universally in a way, because I also like Lucien Pintilie, and my roots are here, but at the same time, they are also abroad. So, I think that my movies are more linked to Rohmer than to my colleagues. And now, because we are past our first or second films, each one of us goes in his own direction and each has his own obsession, you know. Like Radu Muntean, for example, with this middle-class story, it is very interesting, or Mungiu with these female characters…

Can you comment on your statement “We Romanians invented absurdity”? How does is it reflect in your filmmaking?

Here, we have a tradition of this absurd humor. It s a country where – and I think in Serbia it is the same – unfortunately, we see a lot of absurd things everyday on the street, in relation to power for instance. So, it was more like a joke, you know, but at the same time it is sad. And it is an attitude to be always taken with humor. Sometimes, because I am very serious, in a way, and I think that all my characters have something of Buster Keaton and myself, I think the absurd sometimes comes from this and my own occasional absurdity. Making these movies is a sort of a therapy.

When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Romania/France, 2013)

In today’s issue of AperiTIFF, Variety’s Jay Weissberg talked about rudeness and bad interpersonal relationships as a characteristic of Romanian cinema. Can you comment on that? Is it, according to you, a characteristic also very present in your work?

I think that this also happens in Serbia and Eastern Europe because of the paradox of communism that gave birth to a certain type of individualism and what was supposed to be something else, something collective became messed up. After the revolution here you feel that until now – after 25 years – there has been a certain type of very rude capitalism. Unfortunately, we still are in this period, and we all try to survive. When I made The Treasure, I thought of making something different and solidary to prove everything and everybody wrong and not wrong at the same time… But now, things are changing; for all these years it has been very much every man for himself.

How do you see the current state of the Romanian film industry? Especially, in terms of generational, cultural, and financial problems in spite of the international praise.

In terms of financing, I think that the films are OK, especially with the CNC now. But, the problem is that they do not organize the contest well. They started doing it twice a year, which is good, and it is better like that but it is not good for younger filmmakers. I can afford to have a co-production in France because of my career but for young directors, it is quite difficult to make their own first movie. Yet, the biggest problem, I think, is in theatres, the distribution. I just started the distribution of The Treasure, and during its first weekend it only made 2 300 entries, in spite of it winning a prize in Cannes and being in the news a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, this is the biggest problem for me. Also, at some point you need your audience. You make movies for your audience and you need feedback. All these prizes are OK at the beginning, then you need to get to the audience. If you do not, it is sad.

There are a lot of reasons – back at communist time, we had theatres downtown, in the 1990s all these places became bars, pizza restaurants, etc…

The same happened in Serbia – maybe you have heard about Zvezda, the occupied cinema in Belgrade. Young people came and occupied this abandoned theatre which was privatized back at the time. Now they are renovating, screening films, making a revolution, practically. Because cinema needs distribution…

Yes, this is the biggest problem for me now too.

How about from cultural and generational point of view?

From cultural point of view, of course, if you do not have the audience, you stay in the margins, since the viewers of my films vary from 10 to 15, maximum 20 thousand people. In France, my first movie was seen by almost 90 thousand people, in Romania – 10 thousand, in Argentina – 30 thousand. That is OK in the start, now I am 40-year old, I have five movies, I need the audience. As for generations, now I am somewhere in-between, there are now younger directors coming, who are different, but my audience is there too, in this age segment – between 20 and 30, let’s say 35-year old. People who are open to European films, who read a little bit about cinema, who go to concerts, who are based mainly in Bucharest but also here, in Cluj, thanks to the festival.

Still, I believe that a film like The Treasure can have success with all kind of people, just like my first movie, which was watched by plenty of people online. The problem is how you promote it, I am not so good with that. Industry-wise, we are not so good with marketing. We try to do our best, but we do not have so much money. And again, if we go back to distribution, there are like 150 screens in Romania, which is nothing for a country of this size.

What are you next projects?

I started writing something…

Read here the original article
  Police, Adjective
  12:08 East of Bucharest
  The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism
  A Trip To The City
  The Treasure
  Tudor Giurgiu
  Radu Muntean
  Cristian Mungiu
  Anca Puiu
  Corneliu Porumboiu
  Tara Karajica
  Adrian Purcarescu
  Transilvania International Film Festival
  Centrul National al Cinematografiei - CNC Romania
  The Japanese Dog: Starting over
  TIFF 2014 - Closer to the Moon: A wonderful and bold revision of Romanian History
  TIFF 2014 - Interview with Nae Caranfil: “I always try to manipulate with my movies: this is the main reason artists create… to lie beautifully”
  TIFF 2014 - Interview with Tudor Jurgiu: “In Romania, people are not encouraged to see Romanian films or European films or anything but Hollywood”
  TIFF 2014 - Festival Report: The best of the 2013 and 2014 festival circuit
  TIFF 2014: “10 FOR FILM” Mixing theater and cinema: new talent for a new age
  TIFF 2014: “Save the Big Screen” The crowdfunding campaign for the Film Warehouse in Cluj
  Festivalists official website
  Festivalists on Twitter
  Festivalists on Facebook
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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