Interview: Corneliu Porumboiu talks about When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism

During the Vienna Film Festival I had the opportunity to sit down together with Corneliu Porumboiu, one of the greatest voices of New Romanian Cinema to talk about his latest feature When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism and about his perception of cinema.

>In his film he tells the story of a filmmaker struggling with his film and his life in general. He goes through an existential crisis screwing one of his actresses and pretending to be sick instead of going to the set and shoot. This film easily shows how fertile it is to look at processes and situations instead of big plots.


Hello Mr. Porumboiu, is it the first time for you at the Viennale?


No, it is the second time I am here and all my three films were shown at the Viennale.


Do you like the festival?


Yes, it has a great selection. Unfortunately I just stay for three days so I have no time to watch all the movies I would like to watch.


To watch your movie felt like film school to me. There were certain issues about cinema in the movie and I wondered in how far your opinion on cinema is expressed there?


For me it is all personal. I have just a story and this is my way of doing it with all the films I have done so far. Of course, there are a few opinions on cinema that I express here. But I always tell them through the story. For example in the beginning when they are talking about the death of cinema, it is done in a car. It is not as if I was filming a theory or something. In a movie about a director there are a lot of theories that want to be expressed (laughs).


I just remember that you did it before in 12:08 East of Bucharest, there is a scene where they discuss about the use of a tripod versus the use of handheld cameras.


Yeah, I like to reflect my method but I also like to find the right method for each story.


Did you play with the idea of having all the scenes run for the duration of one film role like it is talked about in the movie?


No. It would be impossible. I think the first shot is very long, about 10 minutes. And maybe the last one but the rest of it is not as long as it is maybe perceived. They are just five or six minutes maximum.


I was very impressed once again with your way of writing dialogues. I asked myself how your writing process works.


I feel very confident in writing. There is no real trick or anything about it. I am not thinking too much about treatments or acts. I just start with characters. And every time I rewrite my scripts I start from the beginning. There are no corrections; I just start with a blank page all over again. I spend a lot of time writing and thus I hope the dialogue works as well as you say.


Do you change a lot during rehearsals?


Yes, I do. Well, maybe not a lot but I change things. I also change stuff during the casting


Is it important for you to work with professional or even famous actors like in When evening falls on Bucharest or metabolism?


That depends on the film. In my first movie I did not use professional film actors, just one of them was. After that in Police, Adjective I had Dragos Bucur who is famous but I also used actors from my first film. Sometimes I am writing with actors in my mind. I wrote Police, Adjective for Dragos. This time I casted a very long time. So, there is no precise method for me. But I reflect a lot on actors and casting. In casting I also talk a lot with the actors and try to develop their characters and my text. Sometimes actors find good solutions for my problems.


As your movie is about film and there are many famous films dealing with this topic: Did you have any influences?


Of course, I have many influences. I love Hong Sang-soo, he is a big influence for me in general. For this film Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard was also a big influence. Of course, I know Day for Night, 8 ½ and what not. In the history of cinema a lot of movies talked about this topic so it would be pathetic not to have them as an influence. I also love the films of Eric Rohmer. The way people talk in his films, like in literature, I very much enjoy that and actually try to go for something similar.


One time before shooting a short I told the cinematographer that I was heading for a realistic approach. Then he asked me what that would be. Now, as I have you sitting here and I feel your cinema to be very close to pure realism I just have to ask you what you would have answered him?


Well, very interesting. I think first comes the lens. It has to be 35 to 50 millimeters so that it can resemble the perception you have with your eyes.  After that comes the format. I think 1,85 is what one should work with to come closer to reality. After that you can start talking about topics like observational style, objective approach, and handheld camera and so on. But lens and format are the most important aspects, I think. It's a complicated issue. I would prefer to be an observer and film from a third person perspective.


Do you feel close with your approach to realism to your Romanian colleagues? For example to what Cristi Puiu has done in Aurora?


It is something different. I really love Aurora but I think it is different.


In how far?


Well, I think especially in terms of story. Aurora goes for this kind of Crime and Punishment morality.


Do you think there is a second generation emerging now in Romanian Cinema with directors like Tudor Cristian Jurgiu?


Yeah, there are a few new talented voices. Lots of young directors are making their way. But I would speak of a biological generation. There is no wave coming again. But I hope they will find their ways.


Why didn't you show the sex scene?


It was a structural decision at first. I had the feeling with the film stock that the closed door gives a feeling for this two-dimensional world the characters live in. It is also all about mirrors, small corners and that is what I am really interested in. To show what you don't look at. At the same time it is a kind of statement against pornography if you want to say so. I get the feeling TV influences cinema more and more. And in television it is all about seeing it all, showing it all. So it is kind of an answer to that. It really is a joke. All the time they are talking about it and then we just have this very short shot of them having sex behind a door. Furthermore the whole films works more on a suggestive level.


In your film a constant mood of a menacing end of cinema is around. Is that something which concerns you?


Well, for me it is not about expressing a general fear or something but just personal experiences from the point of view from my protagonist. It's a mixture of what he experiences and what he thinks. For me this movie is really about lying. What does it mean to lie, where the truth behind lies is and so on. So you should be careful about what the protagonists tells you. He feels, he exaggerates all the time. But as far as my opinion on this whole digital evolution is concerned I can only say that the whole process of making films changes. Other films will appear. It will be very interesting to see what is going to happen.


There is a strong sense of recreation in your film. One time you have the director and actress practice again together just to show the director a few moments later in quite a similar position to what they talked about during the rehearsal.


I moved that particular scene during the editing. I just got the feeling that it was all about inspiration. Everything he does inspires him. He eats, he talks, he looks and all will be part of the film he wants to shoot. It was a playful process for me. It's really the same with the nudity. But I guess that happens if you make a film about filmmaking.


You usually present only a few locations in your films. Characters return to the same places. Why?


I don't really know. Maybe that comes naturally due to the length of my scenes. There can be no more than just a few locations. I try to get the essential locations.


Important aspects are not always in the center of the screen like the character tells the producer in the end, right?


That's right. Ellipsis is very important to me. It's all about mirrors, reflections, what you can't see. To be honest you don't see a lot of things in my movie. So it was again a playful joke to put this line there.

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