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Romania is a child who forgets easily
© Ana Grgic
First Publication: November 2015
 
 
   
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Ana Grgic: Do you feel that you work follows in the absurdist vein of Dada, such as artist Tristan Tzara and writer Eugene Ionesco?

Corneliu Porumbooiu: Of course I feel that there is this type of absurd touch, let’s say, but it’s more like a general feeling. If I look at other Romanian film directors, they have this “coté absurde”, it’s something cultural. In a way, I am attracted by absurd situations in real life, and at the same time, I have a feeling that there is something very real, some truth in there…We use language, we’re supposed to understand each other, but it’s a matter of corruption between people. So it comes more from my personal experience. In life I am not a very good communicator, and this is why I make cinema, because in a way, I cannot express myself. It comes more from the observation I have about language. 

A.G.: Your films often use satire and humour, how important is it to tell stories through this device?

C.P.: I think I have used this in most of my movies. It comes naturally to me. It’s a distance. It creates distance between me and the story and the characters. However, at the same time, when I am building my characters, I try to instil in them something of my own, so there’s a double movement. It’s inside my characters and there is some kind of a distance. In a movie, you cannot solve things, you can only ask questions. The use of humour is a certain type of attitude towards history. Romanians have this kind of a touch, because you can hardly live with it. You need to laugh.

A.G.: Your films are set in contemporary Romania, but the weight of history is very much present and permeates the behaviour of the characters and plot…is this your way of coming to terms with Romania’s history?

C.P.: I feel that my characters are a product of history, and they are living in a certain type of unclear time. They try to define themselves in regards to history and their own past. In our culture, we always hide things and we forget very easily, things, which can come back in a few years in a worse form. I feel that Romania is sometimes like a child, forgets easily, and very soon does things much worse than before. This is a problem in Romania and our society. From my point of view, we didn’t deal well with the past, and there is an attitude to create mythology of the past. 

A.G.: Why do you think 12:08 East of Bucharest remains the most popular and widely distributed among all your feature films? 

C.P.: I don’t know. Each movie that I have made afterwards, I think is better than 12:08. Maybe it’s because it spoke about the revolution, and that way people connected to something very known, which makes it easier, more popular. Of course, the characters and the dialogues were more burlesque than what I did after. This also helps.

A.G.: What kind of elements capture the interest of international audiences in a film? 

C.P.: It’s very hard to say. For instance, 12:08 was more popular in Europe, while Police, Adjective was more popular in the Unites States. So you never know, it depends on the culture. I think that Police, Adjective was more like a genre movie, speaking more to American people. Finally, I think it depends on each movie, every movie is different.


A.G.: To what do you attribute the success of Romanian cinema over the last 10 years?

C.P.: At the end of the day, these are movies, which are very personal in a way. I think the directors made personal stories. It was something initiated by The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and then it continued. There were a lot of good movies in a short period of time. So people started asking what’s happening over there. It came from the sincerity of the films.

A.G.: You are part of what the critics have termed the Romanian new wave, do you feel that you belong to this cultural movement? 

C.P.: No, I think there is something there that is happening, but at the same time it’s not something problematic. Each one of these directors is trying to find his own voice and in the meantime I feel we are all quite different. Mostly I think it’s a matter of generation. It was a generation, who were teenagers when the revolution came, and afterwards they tried to talk about the present life in Romania, clarify things…There is a certain type of a label, which is good. I know a few of them very well and I talk to them about my projects. It’s important to have people to talk to about cinema.

A.G.: Could you comment on Mircea Daneliuc’s statement that the films of the Romanian new wave are not audacious enough politically?

C.P.: I don’t know, for instance, Aferim! is a militant film for me. It’s like a mirror of the past, it deals with what’s happening now and what happened in the past. Romanian new wave films are different. Although Romania is a free society now, I think the Romanian new wave is more concerned with characters than political issues, it deals with people who have to make decisions but then don’t take them. There aren’t those bad characters like before. There are quite a few films which I think are tough, hard, like Mother and Child which is about this corruption, this is a very hard political film, quite obvious in presence. I feel that now Romanian cinema is very diverse. The Death of Mr Lazarescu, of the old man being refused by hospitals reveals the failure of the system in fact.   

A.G.: Can we talk of “Balkan cinema” in your opinion? Do you feel more like a Balkan, Romanian or European film director?

C.P.: This is hard to say, the concept of the Balkans is like detonating, you have parts which are about to detonate. I feel more like a Romanian filmmaker. My country has always been between East and West, and I like to feel like I am part of something that’s always in between things. I love French cinema a lot, at the same time when I was making Metabolism, I wanted to make a film in between Eric Rohmer and Hou Hsiao-hsien. So, in a way, I assume this type of identity…I recognise that I come from a minor culture. I think it’s good to be in a search of an identity.  

A.G.: Do you like cinema from the Balkans?

C.P.: I cannot say that it is part of my bearings. For example, I like the Czech New Wave from the 1960s, and when I was growing up, I liked Polish cinema a lot. I really love Andrzej Wajda’s work. They are not so Balkan, they are more Western. I like Kusturica but not so much. Of course, there are Balkan films which I like. When I was studying, I liked Italian Neorealist cinema, even now Umberto D is one of my favourite movies. After that, Fellini and Antonioni, who I feel is a great film director. Then I saw a lot of Romanian cinema, and later I discovered French cinema, from Godard to Rohmer, who is also a filmmaker I adore. I like Bresson, too. Sometimes I like to watch the films of Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Keaton more than Chaplin. I don’t really have a theoretical approach, I just like to discover different filmmakers. For example, I discovered Hou Hsiao-hsien when I was working on the script for Metabolism, his work was recommend to me by a fellow filmmaker. I saw one of his films, and it was like when you discover a great author, you just want to see more and more. When I was studying I didn’t have access to many films, in the late 90s, the only choice I had was to see movies at the Romanian cinematheque. And sometimes videotapes. But now you can see movies from all over the world at film festivals. We are living in a different time now. If you can’t see a film at a festival, you can download it. It’s a completely different society now from when I was growing up.  

A.G.: Do you feel your films communicate with Romanian audience or are they more meant for international audiences?

C.P.: I am trying to make my movies for Romanian audiences, but it’s becoming tougher and tougher. For instance, when I made Metabolism, due to the experimentation, dramaturgy and narration, I knew it would be difficult to receive, but yes, I feel like I need more audiences. It’s a pity when you have all these Romanian movies, a movement, and they don’t have an audience at home, it’s hard. And the problem is the distribution, because I know that we have the audience… cinema theatres will never be renovated, some of them have closed down and become strip clubs or pizza places. But there is an audience. The theatres in Bucharest work much better than the cinemas. Shows run there for ten years. Some people go to the theatre because of the actors, there is a kind of a star system in place, which you don’t have in Romanian cinema. In the 1990s lots of people used go to the cinema in Romania, but over time, the image and sound lost quality in projections, and afterwards they also started closing down. The audience is there but it’s hard to make them come back. And of course the problem with the younger generation is that they are educated with American movies and television shows. To be honest I don’t have a solution for that. I just really feel there is supposed some kind of an educational program. 


A.G.: Could you tell us about challenges of financing films in Romania? Many cinema theatres have closed down, how does this affect the film distribution?

C.P.: Financing films is another matter, because we have the CNC, even though they are supposed to support more films, they only fund one for instance. So a part of the budget can come from them. Of course I am lucky, as I have French partners, and if I don’t have a huge budget I can find funding for my films. The problem with distribution is something else. In Romania it’s really a tricky situation right now. There are less cinema theatres, and the audiences don’t come to cinemas anymore. Young people prefer to see American movies. The situation is so particular that from what I know, we have the lowest attendances in Europe. Even in Bosnia, they have more audiences. In Romania it is really catastrophical. It’s very hard to fix this. There is supposed to be a state run program, a vision on part of the government. But I don’t think they give a shit about culture, and I don’t see a change happening in the next ten-twenty years. 

A.G.: What about this notion of the “festival film”?

C.P.: I think this is false. As a filmmaker, I see festivals as an intermediary for a discussion with a certain type of an audience. You are there for the audience, and if you are lucky to get a prize, it will help you with the distribution. The festival is just another way of showing your films.

A.G.: Recently there have been some changes at the National Film Centre and the Romanian Film Archive.

C.P.: Yes, there are lot of movies that need to be restored, they are on 35mm. I know they did that with Lucian Pintilie’s work, but with some private money, it was TIFF (Transylvania Film Festival), he’s one of the most important filmmakers. I don’t know if Daneliuc’s films, who is a great filmmaker, have been restored. So you don’t have that for the best films. I don’t think they have money to do it. Now with CNC, we have lost money from the lottery, and the Romanian television which was also a source of funding, is almost bankrupt, they have debts…These were the two most important sources for funding films, so now the situation is that we don’t have money even to produce films in Romania. 

A.G.: What is your opinion regarding new digital cameras? In Metabolism, the director discusses using new technology in cinema with the actress. Is this an inside comment or your thesis on the subject?

C.P.: The director has a certain change in his tools. What he said was more like a limit, a lack of freedom he has in his mind about the material. I feel that digital will change things. Now we have access to all types of cameras which can penetrate inside the body. For sure, it’s becoming more and more democratic which is good, because we needed a lot more money and facilities to make films. There is a lot more freedom. But you’ll never be completely free as a filmmaker, you have other constraints, time, budget, availability of actors. Filmmaking deals with a certain type of system, digital is just another system. I started making cinema on 35mm and I couldn’t do that many takes of a scene. I was editing at the table, and this helped me a lot in terms of making directorial choices. Now, I prefer to work in digital. I’ve made tests for The Treasure on 35mm and digital, and I chose to work in digital for aesthetic reasons. I used to use FUJI for the green, but as it no longer exists, I chose digital to convey this atmosphere. For my next project, I will try to do so, too. However, I think it’s much harder to work in digital, you have to be more precise. It’s much harder to achieve a certain type of atmosphere, to use the lenses. Personally, I found it challenging. Now, 35mm is much cheaper to use, and you have the freedom to choose either, in terms of the budget it’s about the same.   

A.G.: Your film Treasure is a little bit different in terms of style than your previous films. Was this an intervention on your personal style, or was it due to the fact that it was a co-production?

C.P.: No, I have a big freedom when I make films, so it was just a matter, a certain type of evolution in my way of seeing things. In this case, I started from a real situation.

A.G.: So you started from a real situation, why haven’t you made a documentary yet?

C.P.: Because I am not so good, I am formed as a fiction director, I write all the time, it’s another technique. When I try to do a documentary I am not very inspired on the field. I prefer to go back, to write, to rewrite…I don’t know if I’ll ever make a documentary, I will try to, I tried to make a documentary with The Second Game, but it was more like an essay fiction.

A.G.: How much do the co-productions influence the film’s subject matter?

C.P.: I think I’m quite lucky, I don’t go to these type of commissions before making my movies. Of course, I can apply to Eurimages or CNC, but at the same time I have people who know my name and what I’ve done before. I feel quite lucky. I am now producing a film by a young director, and when I read the script, I tried to give him direction to make it more conceptual, not so ethno. On the other hand, when he travelled around presenting the story, they asked him to make it more local, ethnic in some workshops. I think there is this danger nowadays for young directors who go to certain commissions and script doctors. But at the end of the day, you have to follow your instincts. You have to fight against it. At my school I was in the same situation, the teacher told me to change something in the script, but at the end of the day I did what I wanted. Even in the role of the producer, I give advice, but I say to filmmakers: take it or leave it. Nowadays it’s so hard to make your second or third film, so I feel that as a filmmaker I cannot assume this decision. When I speak to the filmmaker I give my opinion, and at the end of the day it’s his premiere. This is dangerous, talking to someone and telling them what to do.
 
 
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