Interview: Nae Caranfil Talks Romanian Film Industry, Storytelling And CLOSER TO THE MOON

During the Transylvania International Film Festival, Twitch sat down with a major figure in Romanian cinema, Nae Caranfil, whose films are zealously expected events in Romania. The director's latest film, Closer to the Moon, was part of the Romanian Days selection. It's the most expensive Romanian film to date and features an international cast. 

Twitch: How has the Romanian industry changed over the last couple of years? 

At the beginning of the 90s, we could still talk about film industry in Romania because there was a certain number of films produced every year. Now, we can talk only about film agriculture. You just plant a film into the ground and awards grow. I mean the industry changed a lot. I was privileged enough to start by making films in a classic way like doing manual editing with those little machines that really cut film and put the scraps together. Dubbing from top to bottom, direct sound was not available at that time, so it was a completely different way to work. Now, it´s easier but at the same time more difficult because you have much more tools to work with. Paradoxically, you need more time to achieve what you are aiming at. 

What did the New Romanian Way change? 

Unfortunately, it did not change a lot in terms of Romanian production. Access to money is as difficult as it was before but at the same time most of these new wave directors founded their own production companies, so they have freedom that I never dreamt of when I was young and I never dream now when I am almost old. And I would like to think that the fact that I did not create my own company did me some good. But I doubt it. 

What do you mean? 

I create my movies without being force to calibrate myself for festivals, for sales, for things, I am not competent for. I can do my own job without giving a shit if it sells, where it sells and who will take the money out of it. 

That is a good attitude. FILANTROPICA was a huge success...

But just in Romania. And it was sold to France and some territories, so I cannot speak about real worldwide success like for instance The Death of Mr.Lazarescu or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days... 

But the film got you into textbooks. FILANTROPICA is frequently hailed as the beginning of new era in Romanian cinema. 

I don´t think so. My films are very different from theirs. They have a totally different approach to cinema than I have. I am story oriented, they are not. I create structures, they create slices of life. I work with music, they avoid music. I create twists and turns, they avoid that. 

But FILANTROPICA drew attention to Romanian cinema in international context. 

I don´t think that Filantropica was that influential. I wish it would have been, but it did not. The first film that really put Romania on the world map was The Death of Mr.Lazarescu

What the impetus for the story of FILANTROPICA ?

I am not very good of getting back to the genesis of any of my movies. But I remember it was a combination of two failed story attempts and by putting them together was the best way to make them work. One was the story of a couple that goes to a restaurant, can´t pay the bill and they become a waiter´s hostages. The other one was the story of a guy who gets out of prison and starts making texts for beggars and controlling them. For a while, I was trying to work on them separately. And one day, I put them together, mixes them and it worked. This is how Filantropica came to life. 

Were there some real life influences for the story?

Of course, I live here and look around so I know these things. But at the same time, I wanted to make a fairy tale and this is why the film starts with Once upon a time. For that, I thought about Dickens and about The Three Penny Opera by Brecht. So I wanted to have this type of distance from the reality because I don´t much care about reality. I think I am personally richer than reality. 

So it is not like a critique of capitalism.

No, I love capitalism.

Really?

Yeah, I mean I survived capitalism how can I not love capitalism.

Some of recent Romanian films seem to radiating this vibe that life was actually better then than now.

Well, this is reflecting something that´s happening today. Yeah, there is a lot of people, mostly stupid, who really regret the former regime. And you have to acknowledge that they exist and you have to put them in your movies. But this does not mean that filmmaker actually regret the regime. I hope they are not doing that because what you can do in democracy, you are allowed to criticize what you see in front of you, Communist don´t give you this choice.

Your latest film, CLOSER TO THE MOON, is English speaking. Why did you opt for this possibility?

First of all because American producer came into picture. And he loved the story and he told me from the very beginning and I agreed with him on the spot, if American money would get into this production, it´s going to be a film that is meant to reach international audience and not arthouse audience. This said I was worried for a long time that he is thinking of a very commercial type of storytelling. Fortunately, this was not the case. Although we fought a lot over the final cut.

Can you elaborate a bit?

No. At the end of the day, my version prevailed. And he agreed. We shook hands on what you have seen here on the screen.

The film seems to handle a serious matter but it is realized in very light-hearted manner.

Well, it was written like this from the beginning. This is my way of telling stories, this is my tone. And I do not know whether it´s right or wrong but I can only be myself. People, mostly Romanians, who object to this tone saying I have no right to speak about communists in such light colours. And they claim that they lived over those dreadful years and I should, I have the moral obligation, to treat in a dark tone. And I said: Why? Who is obliging me to do that? I lived through those years and I was young at the time and I know I had fun despite the regime. I loved despite the regime. I drank despite the regime and lived a life in other way. So let other people do the trial of the Communist regime. I just want to tell stories that happened in those times because I knew at the time that if we would, we the filmmakers, be given a possibility to make realistic movies of what was happening around us, the material that was around us was so rich, so wonderful, so absurd, so tragic and burlesque at the same time that we could become the best filmmakers in the world because we were dealing with the best material.

Can you return to this material now?

Yeah, I am trying to. And I am doing it with this kind of light touch. In Closer to the Moon and The Rest is Silence, the filmmaking motif is significant. This was an accident in my career because when I started writing Closer to the Moon, The Rest is Silence was not playing the game that was a script I had put into a drawer and I have already given up the hope I will make it someday. So I used some things I worked with in The Rest is Silence in this movie because this movie will maybe have a chance to be made one day. And then things went a completely different way. The Rest is Silence was back again in the game and Closer to the Moon was out. So, I opened the drawer and changed scripts and I picked The Rest is Silence which was written twenty years ago. And then I made Closer to the Moon.

How many other scripts do you have in your drawer?

Not that many. I have there two or three but I believe they won´t be made because times have changed.

How?

Well, you cannot do contemporary comedy today that was written twenty years ago because in the meantime there are mobile phones and internet and when you don´t have these at all in your story, you are a little bit out.

You can still make it a period piece.

It is not period enough. It´s too close to be a period piece and too far away to be contemporary.

Do you intend to do something with them, maybe publish them?

Why not, but I need a publisher.

So the metatextual aspect, filmmakers in CLOSER TO THE MOON and THE REST IS SILENCE, was a conscious choice?

As I have said earlier, it was an accident. My other films are not about filmmakers. In Closer to the Moon is a moon and telescope sort of icons referring to Méliès... No, I did not think about Méliès. Actually the title and the obsession come from the fascination in those years of out of space conquest. And everybody was dreaming about that and things seem to be so much closer than they proved to be. Conquering other planets was something that everyone started to believe is possible and I wanted to use that. And eventually, I used it as a title.

Was it different to direct British and American actors than Romanian ones?

Yes. I incline to be mean and to say that they know their lines. But I will elaborate on that a bit and say there is a very different acting tradition, the Anglo-Saxon tradition, as opposed to European one. I can´t very much formulate that one but the competition being as ferocious there as it is, they come prepared. They are well-oiled machines and they know how to spare everyones´ time. You work very fast with them and at very high level of intensity. They can be very quick to reach emotions, rhythm and tempo and everything you want from them.

So did you rehearse with them before the actual shooting?

We did not have time to rehearse, there was not a possibility for rehearse period. They just showed up on the set. But of course we were starting the day with a small rehearsal of scenes and then we would send them to make-up and costume and then shoot the thing. So it was quite fast and professional.

How long were you shooting?

Nine weeks.

In Romania?

Yes.

You have mentioned the Anglo-Saxon tradition and I think your way of storytelling is at some points closer to their tradition.

To American storytelling from 70s, not present. Their today´s storytelling is very fast forward and straightforward. I try to do quite a sophisticated structure with coming back and seeing things from different angles, discontinuity, that I very much like in this movie which is more European than American. But the very fact that I tell a spectacular story brings people to think that I made movie. But I also think about French adventure literature like The Three Musketeers and you start to understand that it is not a typical American. Telling a spectacular story is just a choice, you can take it or leave it.

Last year, I met here a guy, filmmaker, who was referring to you as the leading figure when it comes to true storytelling and he wanted the Romanian cinema to come back to this roots. Do you perceive yourself like this?

In a way, but I don´t really agree with the nostalgic people that relate to pre-New Wave Romanian movies like there were better. They were not better. These ones are better. These are the professionals working on movies that are difficult and demanding for general audience. But this does not make them bad. Most of them are very very good movies. My choice is different but that does not mean that everybody should go back to storytelling. I think that a very few people in Romania know what a good storytelling is and if you force them into storytelling, you will have very bad results. The narrative itself is very weak in Romania, we don´t have, well we had some great novelists in 20th century, but not many. 

Thank you for your time.
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