Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE about EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY, Descartes’ Error and how filmmaking is like “going blindly in the dark”

Ro Film FestFor those who don’t know yet, the ROMANIAN FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON is fast approaching. Already in its 10th year, this is an unmissable event for everyone familiar with the unparalleled series of critically successful, award-winning, iconoclastic and socially-conscious films coming out of Romania for the last 10 years or so.

Intriguingly called Turning the Page, the festival is sure to delight audiences with the UK premiere of many daring films starring some of the most popular and beloved figures of Romanian cinema:  actor Victor Rebengiuc (Japanese Dog), actor and director Horatiu Malaele (Happy Funerals), actor Bogdan Dumitrache (When Evening Falls On Bucharest Or Metabolism), actors Dragos BucurAlexandru Papadopol and Dorian Boguta (Love Building).

Exciting new films by directors Stere Gulea (I Am An Old Communist Hag) and Adrian Sitaru (Domestic) will also screen in the UK for the first time. Be quick and book your ticket here.

And in anticipation of this year’s Romanian Film Festival in London, I dug up an older interview with Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE taken at London Film Festival 2012.

In the manner of most Romanian films that rarely follow a formula and are bound to surprise you in one way or another, sometimes going off at a tangent to explore unexpected themes and previously uncharted territory, so did this interview veer a bit off course but I find it even more insightful  for it.

As I hadn’t yet seen Radu’s new film Everybody in Our Family when taking this interview, I had to keep the discussion to a generic line and improvise my way through it. And with my delightful interlocutor finding some of my questions “a real pain”, this is the amusing digression that ensued:

Dana: What attracted you to this particular story, what provided the inspiration for this film?

Radu-Jude

Romanian filmmaker RADU JUDE

Radu: It’s a mixture of many things and I don’t think I can explain in one single way, it’s a mixture of things coming from my life, from the lives of people around me, from stories I encountered while researching the film, from the imagination of me and Corina Sabau, the co-writer, so it’s a mix of all these things, and on the other hand I think this question is really really a pain, because nobody asks you “why did you choose me to make an interview?”…

Dana: But I know, I know why I chose to do this interview (laughter)…

Radu: (laughing) No but…why…who cares?

Dana: As a filmmaker I imagine you have a wealth of ideas to choose from…

Radu:Well yes, and at some point one idea is more appealing than the other, for many reasons, maybe you think that you can maybe become rich after making a film like that, at the end of the day I don’t think it matters, what triggers the film … But I hope I wasn’t offensive, I was just making an observation, because everybody wants to know what is the origin of a project. But who cares?

Dana: I’m very interested in the creative process and the choices involved in it…

Radu: Because you’re writing a screenplay…

EverybodyinOurFamilyPoster2

Everybody in Our Family

Dana: Maybe, yes. And the process itself: how do we choose an idea, how do we choose anything in life, a career…

Radu: …a wife, a husband…

Dana: Exactly…

Radu: Well, can you explain how you choose a husband?

Dana: Are you implying it’s something a bit random?!?

Radu: Yeah, I think it’s always random…But just to finish, regarding this film, there is a book I read by Antonio Damasio, he’s a neurologist, the book is called  Decartes’ Error and in it he demonstrates that any decision that a person makes is a mixture of what we call the rational mind and of the emotional side.

Dana: I thought you were going to say it’s entirely emotional, it’s not rational at all, which would be a compelling argument to put forward, that we’re actually using reason to justify decisions that have an entirely emotional basis.

Radu: No, of course, the two are connected, you cannot be emotional at all without being rational, and the other way around, it’s about stability.

Dana: Going back to the film, tell me about the filmmaking process, how long did it take?

Radu: It was 22 days of filming, then 2 months of editing, then one month of sound mixing and another month of… so 6 months in total.

Dana: What were the challenges you encountered?

Radu: Well, the most important and terrible challenge is my lack of talent and my lack of abilities…

Dana: (!!) Which doesn’t show…

Radu: Well it shows, it shows for everybody…

Dana: What do you mean? I only heard good things about your film…

Radu: Yes but the film would have been better if I were more talented and more intelligent and full of qualities…

happiest-girl-posterDana: And I really liked your previous film as well, The Happiest Girl in the World.

Radu: Maybe that one was better…

Dana: What is making a film in Romania like?Was it difficult to get funding for this film?

Radu: Well, I think it is difficult to get funding everywhere for an arthouse film, and I think this shows really that cinema is…maybe not dying but is somehow in an artificial life, because you cannot keep it alive with only public funding and European Union money or extremely low budget private funding. But the real challenges of the system of public funding in Romania, the system is not working as well as it could and with this new government things are going to be worse and worse and worse, I’m sure about that…

Dana: So are you a bit pessimistic about the future of Romanian cinema?

Radu: Well, I’m not sure I am pessimistic, I think some people will get a chance to make good films but regarding the institutional side of things I am pessimistic, yes.

Dana: Do you have a next project lined up?

Radu: I have a next project, I have five more projects…

Dana: But no money, you’re waiting for the funding to come in…

Radu: Yes I applied to the National Film Centre although the procedure is for them to organise a contest for finance in the new year. But they haven’t organised anything yet, so it’s like…you cannot be sure of anything.

Dana: As far as directing is concerned, David Mamet says it’s all about where to put the camera and what to tell the actors. What do you think of that, and do you have a specific method?

Radu: I think Mamet meant that it is important to know when to cut a picture and I totally agree with him but it’s like telling you that writing is just taking a pen and putting words on paper. And regarding a method, come on, do I look like someone with a method, I don’t have a method, I would die to have a method, I would like to have a method, or an idea about it but filming for me is like going blindly in the dark…

Dana: That’s reassuring in a way because I think a lot of filmmakers experience that feeling…

Radu: I don’t think so, I think other filmmakers are much smarter… I have a method anyway when facing a difficult decision, both in life and in filmmaking: sometimes when you remember that you’re going to die kind of soon, it becomes easier.

Dana: So the secret is… don’t stress too much, is that the method?

Radu: Yes, don’t stress too much.

Dana: Or maybe it’s not even a good idea to have a method…

Radu: But I want a method, then I would make only successful films every year, and become rich and famous and successful myself.

cropped-movie-ticket.jpgDespite Radu’s modesty (and please don’t think it was false modesty, I could tell that he really meant what he said), when I finally saw the film I was totally captivated by it, as was the audience, which resulted in a very animated Q & A with the first question being: “What was the inspiration for this film?”!Oh no, poor Radu!

I think the reason for the fascination that Romanian films hold upon their viewers (probably more abroad than at home) is their authenticity. A Romanian film is “genuine”, it wears its heart on its sleeve and it will tell you the truth, the filmmaker will speak his/her mind through it. And this is very daring as it takes guts to tell things as they are, with the risk of coming across a bit blunt or even vulgar. I could speculate and say that this is probably due to the experience of communism that most filmmakers of the Romanian New Wave endured in their youth: after being subjected to silence and compliance with a hypocritical regime for so long, the freedom gained after the Revolution enabled them to speak out, and speak out they did. For me it is always very refreshing to see a Romanian film, the experience gives me goosebumps, and this is because the filmmakers really have something to say, they are not making a film out of ego or to show off their talents, although the thought of becoming rich or famous is alluring to everyone, as Radu ironically confesses! Filmmaking is very much a necessity in Romania, it is like therapy. Exasperated with the reality around you, you either make a film, speak out and exorcise those demons or…what is the alternative: not make a film, shut up, repress it all and… become a neurotic? Since most psychologists seem to concur that the line between artist and neurotic is a fine one…

The little girl Sofia, played marvelously by Sofia Nicolaescu

Everybody in Our Family deals with a broken marriage and a father’s efforts to bond with his five-year-old daughter in the new situation. If only he were allowed to! Because hazard (the little girl had just developed a fever) and the extreme cautiousness, when it comes to matters of health, of his ex-mother-in-law, ex-wife and the ex-wife’s current boyfriend get in the way, preventing him from doing what he set out to do. And what appears at first to be genuine and justified care on the part of his “opponents” develops and escalates into a fight of huge and hilarious proportions, in which the little girl becomes a mere tool in the parents’, and the extended family’s, game of power and manipulation.

In a very slow and minutely-observed build-up of tensions, the film traces the protagonist’s descent into temporary madness as he confronts everyone with painful truths about their existence. At the climax of the film, the tragedy turns into comedy, a sign that it reached its paroxysm and has nowhere else to go. Brilliantly scripted, filmed and acted, this movie blurts out some painful truths. But you won’t need painkillers to get through it, the film’s humour provides the buffer needed to balance out the bitterness and make it all a bit more palatable. A masterful black comedy, and it’s not just me saying it (read the Indiewire review here).

But if you, alas, missed this film when it screened at London Film Festival 2012, make sure you don’t miss other Romanian films screening at the Romanian Film Festival in London. From 28 NOVEMBER to 2 DECEMBER ONLY, hurry!

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