This comes after being much appreciated in Europe: in 2006 he got the Palme d'Or for his short film, Megatron, and in 2010 Morgen, his feature debut, got the Special Jury Prize Locarno Film Festival. Morgen is about the friendship of a simple man living on a farm in Romania and a Turkish man, an illegal immigrant trying to cross the border with Hungary in order to reach his son, who lives in Germany.
Mr. Crişan dressed in blending in black getups is an amiable young man with DVDs spilling out of his coat pockets. He speaks softly. He multitasks, constantly fiddling diddling with his smartphone.
Ella Veres: How did you become a director? You were saying your film-making revelation came with Indiana Jones. You watched it on video, since they didn’t show it in cinemas – it was too decadent.
Marian Crişan: Mda. It was about '86-'87. Well, it’s just a way of speaking, it was a long journey until I started making movies. We watched movies during the ‘80s with our friends, on video, we also went to the cinema. But this film caught our attention. It was well made, a solid film, well, evidently that film is fantastic, it’s exotic. But we got thinking, ‘How did they make it? Who are these people who make movies?’ Then we found out there are various departments. And then, in ’88, we got as a Christmas present a video camera, a VHS, and we started filming with our friends. We made small scenes. We even sort of edited them, on two connected video players. We enjoyed playing with that, so one step followed another, and I took the entrance exam at the UNATC (Film Institute).
EV: You said in previous interviews that you graduated, becoming a director, with the feeling that it was a waste of time. You wanted to drop out the first year, but stayed in school for the sake of your parents. If you would like to speak about that.
MC: I don’t think it’s a singular experience. I believe many people go through this, but I was disappointed because I hoped to get a more hands-on educational experience, and it wasn’t in the least so. I wanted to drop out because it made no sense. After two years, it was not going right, but I continued to educate myself by watching movies.
EV: What’s up with the UNATC? In my time corruption was rampant there. Is it still the only movie school in Romania? Were the professors the same ones from before ’89?
MC: No, no. I went to university in ’94.
EV: So they were new?
MC: It doesn’t depend on the professors. The education system, not specifically the Film Institute, but, overall, the Romanian education system, even nowadays, is not efficient.
EV: Alright, you’re saying that the New Romanian Wave, albeit, I have no clue why it is called the New Wave, but you’re saying, “It matters very much that they lived during the communist "Golden Age". Obviously, every generation has its moment of glory. And the ‘70s had it... Veroiu, Piţa, Tatos, and others, said something important... and Daneliuc. That is not talked about now, it’s trivialized, but they were present in the important European festivals. You cannot say that cinema was invented in Romania only now! Now the trend is to make realistic cinema, minimalist, also because the small budgets don’t allow a thorough approach in terms of filming on the set, scenery, costumes, special effects, etc. That takes us to a kind of realistic and contemporary storytelling. Because now you’re able to produce only that!”
MC: Well, obviously the fact that we lived, our generation, under two such different time periods, created a kind of cultural background for us, but what is not talked about much is that all artists, not just film directors, were fed up with communist art making, and they wanted to make something different, and that’s what they did, painters, and theater directors, and film directors. And it reached a point when things could not go the same way, making the same kind of movies for 20, 30 years. That’s it. Enough. Always comes a ground zero moment. And these new kind of films started to appear.
EV: What happens after Palme d'Or? Someone from abroad rushes to produce your films?
MC: Nooo! And that just needs to be clarified, discussed. Money does not come from abroad so easily. It comes only if you have money from your own country. If you take ten, twenty awards and if you have 50% of the money you need, then for sure you can find a German producer, French or Spanish, who then says, "Here, I’ll give you 30%". And you can increase the film budget, and do something more than you have done alone. If you win a prize, it helps sales, and the producer can mention it on the DVD case.
EV: You’re saying that what seems original, minimalist for those abroad, it’s actually lack of money.
MC: The matter is very complex. I used to say that, but the matter is very complex! One facet is indeed that when you have a small budget you can’t make big things, it’s as simple as that. You can’t make an action movie with stunts on 100,000 euros! It’s self-evident. And it’s not only a Romanian matter. It’s the art cinema, Casavettes, small budgets, the treatment of film asks for a different approach and process, but there are many other facets, not only this.
It's poverty, it's realism. It is minimalism, and a mixture between the power of film production, and a craving for telling real stories, about reality, not like those from the ‘80s, which they were only saying were realistic - "the socialist reality". Now we can talk about "true" realism, which other people had stopped making. Somehow it's a time period that I could liken to Italian Neorealism.
Our movies seem striking abroad, because they are close to people, are made simple, "down to earth". This strikes them, because they have forgotten about that style, and have passed that stage.
EV: Okay, you were saying that we have to show Romanian reality.
MC: We've always talked about ourselves with grandiose airs, "Romanians are fantastic, Romanians are brave, Romanians are…" I don’t know what other big deal. Well, Romanians are Romanians! Romanians are poor. 60-70% of Romanians live in the country, barely scraping by. And that should be shown! It shouldn’t be excluded. People don’t like to see how they look. But sometimes we have to see that too, right?
Yes. That’s for sure we have to see the truth. Why shouldn’t we have on the screen the majority? That is rural Romania. Not just city dwellers. Why concoct something outlandish, when there are so many subjects in Romania? Why shouldn’t we face the truth that people live in the countryside, and have specific problems and lead hard lives, why shouldn’t we show that on screen? Why should we hide that? There’s nothing to hide. It is what it is. It’s not just here. Same goes for Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine, Moldavia, so on. Many are offended that we show ‘misery’. It’s not misery. It is what it is.
EV: Having in mind the Mexican wall that Bush erected, perhaps your film will resonate with American audiences. You mentioned why you think Moartea Dnului Lăzărescu (The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu) was of interest here. Very interesting how you put it. I don’t know if you’ve lived in America, but you were saying, “Although it's hard to believe, in America the health care problem is more acute than here. Our health care works out somehow with our youth and girls imported from Albania, who take care of our elders. For the Americans, Lăzărescu, was like a slap in the face. They saw how one can discuss things about the aging, because they do not make movies like that. In their films, the elderly go to Hawaii, have fun and dance. In fact, it’s more severe than in Romania.”
Why do you think that?
MC: Well, I said this about three years ago. It was a remark pertaining to style, not content, that in a Hollywood movie, a mainstream movie, you see more about the ambulance driver, while we talk more about the patient, that's the difference. In their films, the ambulance staff is in action, makes decisions, moves, fires the gun, their lives is at risk ten times. We come and show what happens with the patient.
But my remark was not necessarily definitive, because there are very good Hollywood movies about this age. One that comes to my mind is the one with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, you know, how the two of them meet in a hospital, and go on a trip together around the world to fulfill some of their dreams. A beautiful story. Or About Schmidt! A very good movie.
But it was a remark in an interview, and it is hard to understand it out of that context. It’s misleading.
EV: Well, I wanted to clarify how did you come to that conclusion?
MC: Oh, but they are opinions I had two years ago.
EV: And meanwhile you’ve visited America?
EV: Perhaps you were younger.
MC: No, it’s not about that. I’m of the same opinion.
EV: Of the same opinion…
MC: That unlike the mainstream German, French, English, American movies, Romanian films, not all Romanian films, not all Romanian films, see more closely, watch people, the individual, more intently. But this is not a Romanian thing, it’s an artistic matter in cinema worldwide. We don’t talk about cultures, who are we to talk about that?! We are at a moment during which Romania is producing quite a few art movies, and the feeling is that they look closer at the individual, but this doesn’t mean that the same thing is not happening in the U.S. or Brazil. There are many good art movies made in many countries. America has the largest amount of arthouse movies in the world.
EV: I’m glad you say that. I appreciated when I read about your movie collection, that you show an appreciation for American movie makers. Yet there is a trend in Europe, at least how I experienced it at TIFF (Transylvanian International Film Festival). When I went to the press conferences, French producers dădeau în filmele americane ca-n fasole/started bashing American movies, like mashing potatoes. Terrible.
MC: Oh, yes. This is a favorite sport/hobby/pastime!
EV: Especially French people! Unimaginable. But when you pin them down, then they say, ‘Oh, actually I’m making a coproduction with an American film company!’
MC: It’s a foolish/idiotic sport/hobby. It has no connection to reality. It’s like comparing apples and bananas. We should compare Romanian apples with American apples. Don’t compare apples with melons, picking on them that they are larger, have seeds. It’s a different matter. Each of them does their own thing. Why should you stir a hornet’s nest that has no connection whatsoever? It’s a loss of time, nonsense. And is a meaningless competition. What competition?! Who’s the smartest?! Nonsense. Besides cinema creators are everywhere. There are cinema creators that appear in Africa or Thailand, very important ones. They put their mark on international cinema, even if they’re coming from a village in New Zealand. So these comparisons and competition are a loss of time, maybe to show off, and add to the spectacle.
EV: I don’t think they knew I was an American and would call them on their anti-American posturing. They thought they were only among Europeans.
MC: Oh, but American cinema is the most solid cinema, perhaps it created the most important works in the 20th Century, one of the most important cinemas. And we’re talking about films, not sitcoms and blockbusters. Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, they are complete directors, maybe the most important directors of the last 50 years. They influenced so many directors around the world, it’s not merely unjust, it’s nonsense. Then the younger directors, Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, very important directors. They influenced me for sure. When a Jim Jarmusch film was released, I’d wait for it like hot bread. I’d watch it six times.
Now, in Romania, it's pretty hard to follow what the contemporary authors do. Often I buy DVDs online in the United Kingdom, the United States.
When I was attending UNATC, in Bucharest, I discovered the Cinemateca/Cinematheque, and with it many authors I like: Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Woody Allen. You always discover something new there.
EV: When would you watch it? How long after it was released?
MC: There were ways in the ‘90s. In the ‘80s there was no possibility, but gradually there was a black market for film and art. In the end someone showed up with a Jim Jarmusch video cassette less than a year after its premiere. Either someone had a friend in the U.S., or in England. Now with the internet, there is movement. People can watch them; there is communication. It’s important, and I repeat American cinema is admirable.
EV: Alright, I’m glad that you think this way.
As if it’s unpopular to be an American at the festival… as if here there are no artists, only commercial trash… A prominent Romanian actor boasts about how he refused to relocate to Hollywood. What is this?! Anyway, let’s spend a little time with politics. I saw that you repeatedly feel you have to add a disclaimer, “I didn’t want to take a political position. I hope it’s not understood as such. Morgen talks about kindness, friendship, humanity... There is some irony directed at the European Union, but we didn’t want to treat it as a political issue.”
Why do you steer away in your interviews from politics? Why is it necessary to preface your discourse with, ‘I don’t do politics?’ What happens if you do talk?
Willy-nilly we talk about the globalization that affects small towns like Salonta. We talk about borders. The concept of borders comes into question. Their disastrous, inhuman effect. You do talk politics.
I don’t quite understand, maybe I left Romania too long ago, what does ‘political’ mean for you? Propaganda?
MC: Yes, yes.
EV: You seem to have an allergic reaction to it.
MC: Yes, as I said today after the film screening, it’s not in the political genre. Carlos, or Che, Nixon, or JFK, are political movies, and discuss politics. Mine is not. Morgen is an auteur film. I’d like if it would be categorized as a dramatic comedy, but is not a political movie. Politics exist in the background. It’s a good thing to have politics in the film, but not blatantly militant. Then it’s not art anymore, and I don’t shy from, I don’t avoid it, but I don’t want it to be labeled as a political film. We don’t make a political statement with this movie. Indeed we discuss borders, immigration, a concrete situation, but we don’t make a statement. Everybody on this planet discusses politics and sports, weather; this has to be on the screen. People talk and the films are about people, not cardboard characters. We have soccer talk in this film, come to think of it they don’t talk politics. The story is personal.
EV: The personal is political, man. Could it be that under communism movies were filthy with politics, and we got nauseated by them?
MC: But they weren’t really political movies.
EV: No, they weren’t.
MC: They were propagandistic, and mistakenly, they tried to impose, force us into a certain type of thinking and living, which is not alright, as we found out, neither in politics, nor in films, nor in literature, nor in theater, in nothing. Nor in music. People want freedom, to express themselves freely, especially in art. Those movies were worthless, had no weight, no flesh, because from the start they were lies, were created and written while lying. At least truth is required, even if it’s not the truth, but at least to give you the feeling that those who wrote that book, made that film, know what they are talking about, and are sincere. It was a huge lie. Still, there were authors in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Liviu Ciulei, Tatos, Pintilie, who are very important and left their mark.
EV: Add also Daneliuc, pretty please!
MC: And Daneliuc must be mentioned. Stere Gulea with Moromeţii, are very important movies, weighty, even now. And in animation, Gopo. They made history, and are still standing their ground. Afterwards, came a very long interval, during which nothing worthwhile was made.
And it's time for a new generation to tell the story in a little braver way.
EV: You say, "The disinterest in cinema in Romania is well known; and sometimes this disinterest comes from the media, that always waits for confirmation to come from abroad, and only then they accept that particular author or work.
“We hope to grow a public in our country too. This would be the most important thing: to have a real public, not just at festivals.”
Audiences in Romania, I understand, apart from festivals, a good audience is what, 20,000 people?
If you could talk about this too.
MC: Well, things changed. It’s not true that Romanians don’t go to cinema. Romanians go to cinema, but the disinterest was created and developed along time, because the movies of ‘80s and ‘90s were not sincere, they were full of bad acting and bad dialogue, filled with human abjection, and so people preferred to go to a Bud Spencer, to see Winnetou rather than go watch our movies. They couldn’t stand them. And it stayed in people’s mind that Romanian films have screaming people, bad acting, the directors are propagandistic, the screenplays are whatnot. If it’s Romanian, it’s obviously gonna be bad.
So now, in the New Wave, we are aware of this. Naturally, people react, ‘Oh, I don’t want to see a Romanian movie. It’s so sad. Everything is dark; everything is tragic. It’s gloomy!’ And by and large, even the New Wave has heavy films the everyday man, average citizen, who goes to the movies for entertainment, can’t be forced to watch a heavy, weighty art movie. It’s not mandatory, like communism. He can choose. The question is, what is the offer? But the most important question is where can one see the movie? Cinemas don’t exist anymore. In small towns, even those that were still open in the ‘90s, they shut down and turned into discos. We have now the Multiplex, but they aren’t interested in scheduling auteur films, so the dilemma is where can people watch our films? The question that comes up, again and again, is ‘When will it be on the Internet?’ It’s a good question. When it’s on the net, then they can watch it in Brăila, in Oradea. But this is not our business as directors, this is for distributors to deal with. Sure there are directors who make movies having in mind the audience, but the biggest issue is the distribution. How can you transport it and show it? It’s a double-edged issue: there are no laws, and there are no physical spaces, halls with chairs and screens. Here in New York I see there are programmers who bring in movies, there are movie theaters.
EV: Yes, but we also have Netflix, Movies on Demand, Blockbuster Express, Red Box…
Let’s talk about the film. What gave you the film idea?
MC: In 2007, I spent my Christmas vacation in my hometown, Salonta. Salonta is a small town, situated on the border between Romania and Hungary. I remember it was very cold, and I sat at home and read. I tend to read the local newspapers when I'm there. I read a story that began with, "Two Turkish immigrants tried to cross the border illegally. They were caught by the police in the frozen canal." This small paragraph saddened me, because in our town things like this don’t really happen, Salonta being a pretty quiet town. I began to imagine a story, in that exact place, between a migrant and a local.
It's just like the Italian Neorealism; they write their scripts using newspaper articles. I think there is a mysterious and beautiful connection between the new Romanian film and Italian Neorealism.
This type of situation is unknown to many of us. But it happens everywhere, not only on our border. What’s important is that nobody cares about their individual problems, why the resort to this. No one understands their problems, so it was a challenge to talk about it.
The main subject of the film is about a curious connection between an immigrant and a local. Also, I wanted to look at the weird way people meet each other.
EV: What’s up with Diego? Is he a căpşunar/strawberry seasonal picker? It's all because of him being the guy that abandoned the Turkish refugee in the middle of nowhere, because he didn’t have enough money!
MC: Well, yes. The Turk is of no interest to him. No pay, no bother.
That character is a real person. He is a cousin of mine. His nickname is Diego.
EV: Why is he called Diego?
Because he went to pick strawberries in Spain?
MC: No, because he was a big fan of Diego Maradona, and he had curly hair, so people called him Diego! I said, ‘Let’s have a Diego in the film.’ He stayed behind in Salonta, I moved to Bucharest, but he really lived through situations involving illegal border crossing. People lived through this, especially in the ‘90s. He went through much, and he saw much. He was a symbol for us. He had to be in the movie: he made me believe in what I was doing. He told me a lot of stories, and my mind would be blown away.
EV: I remember the early ‘90s at the Hungarian border, the black marketeers’ buses, waiting to cross at the border for even as long as a day, until the good bribable border guards came on shift. The humiliation. All gone now. It’s a breeze to cross the border now.
MC: Yes, incredible things were going on with the gasoline, with cigarettes, with people, like everywhere else, border zones are active places. Every year something happens. One year sugar is cheaper in Hungary. Everybody goes to buy sugar in Hungary, bring it to Romania. Then gasoline gets cheaper in Romania than in Hungary. They go back, and take it to Hungary. Unbelievable, the things that go on there! One could make many movies on this subject. It’s a pity no one was on top of it and made documentaries, because it is part of Eastern Europe history. At one point there was a man’s house that was filled with tons of sugar! In Salonta!
EV: He was waiting for the prices to fluctuate, go up and down!
MC: No, he knew already! He had clients coming from Hungary not to buy little bags, but sacks. The price difference was double! It was not long ago, three, four years ago. Then gasoline. Before Romania entering the EU the gasoline was half the price. Hungary being already in the EU, their prices aligned to the EU prices, and the difference was, there it was 2 lei, here 1 leu. You could make loads of money, if you took gasoline over there to sell.
EV: You were saying this film is a western of sorts?
MC: I like westerns. One of my favorite movies is Fred Zinnemann's High Noon. I like to think that my main character is somewhat of a western character. Doesn’t have a gun, but...
EV: Why do you call it a western? He’s certainly not a macho sex symbol, rather asexual, like kids see their parents. He doesn’t smoke cigars or drink, doesn’t quick draw his gun, nothing apart from a good soccer brawl. What kind of cowboy is this?
MC: Nelu is 40 years old. He is a loner type, uncommunicative, but who jumps to help you when you need it. Nelu represents exactly the people you meet in those places of Romania. He is the perfect blend of my family and my friends there. I wanted him to give me the feeling that he was from my hometown.
EV: Well, you’ve managed to do just that. As if we are in a typical ethnic joke in which Transylvanians are slow but kind.
MC: Also, the relationship with his wife is very important in the film. I just wanted to catch that kind of relationship between husband and wife that is specific to that place: the wife is somehow the boss at home.
EV: Indeed he helps her with the dish washing, does the rinsing, helps her around the house. Endearing, feminist, outlandish. His mantra seems to be: The family sticks together. We go on vacation to the Danube Delta, not to the seaside where the wife wants, but where he wants to go, so he can fish, but we will go together, like a family.
He thus understands the Turk fugitive, who has to go to his son in Germany.
MC: Yes, the major theme is family.
EV: A family concept that in reality doesn’t exist anymore. Next comes the Politics of Decentralization. You said you wanted actors from Salonta. There is life away from the big city, the capital. The sinful, corroding, alienating, pestilential agglomeration. Do these words ring a bell?
MC: No, each film has its own story. This film was written and conceived to be in Salonta. My next movie is set in a city, in Oradea, 300,000 inhabitants, urban area. Truth is it was more comfortable for me to write Morgen because I knew what I was talking about, the people. I’ll write other stories in other settings. It depends on how important those stories seem at the moment, to make you sit down and write them. There has to be a grain of truth, artistic truth, otherwise you can’t write it, and then after you write it, convince, I don’t know how many tens of people to film it, and to give you money.
EV: Are you saying it’s time to go back home, to our humble source, away from the city where we ventured to make our fortunes? We can do that now. The internet and mobile phones put the world at our fingertips.
The Call of the Umbilical Cords, the Song of the Placenta, the Voice of the Motherland. Silly, still maybe it’s time we go home now. Everything will be alright. Did we get lost? Ne-am rătăcit? Did we go astray? Is there no place like home? Is there a movement back? We are scattered all over the world. Is there a migration back? For example, I make photography. I brought you some images thinking you’ll be amused. Quick, quick, before the PR shoos me away!
You said you felt like seeing on the screen the places and people you grew up with. Could you put it into words why? I took portraits of villagers in the places I grew up with. My dream is to have them billboard size in Times Square. At times I laugh in merriment, I don’t know why it feels comical, yet, their earthiness and humanity might counteract for me the surreality of billboard commerce.
This specificity, I’m not from Europe, or Romania, or even Transylvania, but from Zalău, on Crasna Street, across from Cireşica (The Little Cherry) buffet. Extreme specificity? Extreme allegiance.
Do you think it’s something about the Voice of the Motherland, the Umbilical Cord? I don’t want to sound sinister, but…
MC: Nooooo, we shouldn’t…
EV: …psychoanalyze that much?
MC: Yes, but it’s a rule older than time that you should write about what you know. It’s essential for an artist. Of course I’d be delighted to make a genre movie, a thriller, that demands you follow a set structure while making it, but when you make an auteur film, it’s rather like writing a novel. You’re looking for an essence hard to explain. So evidently you stick to things that you know best. Porumboiu went back to Vaslui. Cristi Puiu’s first two films were made in the neighborhood he grew up. Like Scorsese who filmed in the Bronx, and in Little Italy, where he knows the stories, he lived with those stories. I filmed in Salonta because I knew the details of that world. More than I know Bucharest where I lived less time. The Coen brothers returned to their hometown too, to make Fargo, for example. We are still in primitive times, we are discovering natural cinema only now.
Also, I like very much to work with amateurs. Some characters in the film are real people from my hometown. I thought they would fit very well in those places.
EV: Let’s talk about Salonta a bit. I’d like to know how they received the film in Salonta.
MC: Salonta is a city like any other in Romania. Nothing special. If you walk the streets, you have the feeling that nothing is happening or that nothing will happen. But like any place, Salonta has its own stories.
EV: Is this a fairytale? A parable? An imagination?
Salonta is like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, the town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
The pride of being Romanians...
Oradea, Salonta, Sarkad…. If the film was negative you’d never mention these places by their real name, never ever. Or would you? You’re the Beloved Son of your hometown. The mayor and everybody helped you to make the movie. You have been awarded the key to the city. How was it? What do you do with the key to the city? You wear it around your neck at hip hop concerts?
MC: Well, evidently I’m home there. Me and my family. We have many relatives, many friends. We live there Romanians and Hungarians, since I don’t know when, the ‘50s, my grandparents… We’re Salontans, and evidently when you start a commotion like this, when you need the support, well… Things have changed a lot, in regards to the authorities. Especially after the internal EU borders disappeared. Everything is more permissible, people are more open. I had all the support in the world. And though I wasn’t critical, still I opened a few drawers in which things weren’t alright. But that was not a problem because people already knew about them. I didn’t say anything new, everybody knew it, from boot to… from the lower to the top strata of society. People are not naïve, especially about what goes on there. I think it’s important for them, and for the authorities, to show how we live. In the end it’s not a secret. It should not be taboo. Yes, there are problems, there are illegal crossings, there are people who need help, but why should we hide it? It’s not just me saying it, the chief police in New York can easily say the same thing: we don’t live in the old time when we had to hide things. People evolve.
But the borders towards Ukraine are still filled with security to the teeth.
EV: So you had no problems, like after Borat, when entire villages sued?
MC: Oh, no! but Borat was slanderous. Rightly so they sued him.
EV: But you know what I’m saying, you descend on a community that is not used to filming. They imagine you make millions. Did you have to deal with that?
MC: No, no, people were delighted. They gave us full support. 100%. Whatever they could, at all levels, even passers-by. They came to see the movie in extraordinary huge numbers. We scheduled it for 3 days of screening. We had about 2,000 viewers in a town of 20,000. They came and bought a ticket to see the movie. We reopened the cinema for three evenings, just for this. They were delighted and moved. Many didn’t see the comical side, but rather the dramatic aspects of their lives. We are in touch with the authorities there for the next project we film in Oradea, and partly in Salonta, and we have their support. It is important for communities to get exposure. Why not see on screen other geographical zones? People are open and intelligent enough to welcome this.
EV: My hometown took me to task. The Town’s Librarian said she’s not supportive of me, my writing is vulgar, and she says I corrupt the youth. Small provincial towns. Don’t we usually run to the big cities, in Bucharest, in New York, to escape the knuckleheads? High school: Prison of my Youth... What a different experience we two had. Generation gap... Where is this Salonta? On the moon? In your loving child imagination? Obedient, grateful? No more anxious rebels. A film for dear parents who sacrificed themselves and who silently waited for us to come home from college, from New York, from Locarno.
Last summer I sensed a new movement in Romania, after decades of being furious on our heritage, suddenly everybody is shifting, “Let’s say good things about Romania. The new generation that cleans Romania’s garbage, fixes Romania’s image.” Tenderness. Repairs the generation gap. We’re not angry anymore. We don’t accuse our parents of being stinky communists. We understand that they had to survive, to compromise for us, to raise us against all odds.
We forgive them.
They’re all decent, unsung heroes. As if decency comes as a welcome surprise, both in the landscape of Romanian films, breaking the trend of portraying awful but familiar reality. Audiences, film makers, got tired of ruining Romania’s image. Tired of complaining. We want to show our good sides. ‘Of Romania say only good things.’ ‘You’re ruining our image abroad.’
On my trip I took pictures of the townspeople at Zalău’s Days. It made me cry when I looked over them in the safety of my New York apartment. I was so sorry for them. Pitied them. Sad, forlorn, left behind, robbed, lied to. Amărâţi, părăsiţi, furaţi, minţiţi.
Sorry, you made me go back home.
Anyway: The film doesn’t end when it ends on the screen. You embed border stories around your story. You’re now a receptacle of your audience’s stories.
I’m curious what happens when a woman at the Lincoln Center Film Festival opening party comes to you and says, ‘You know, I’m from Bihor too, your county.’ Or, ‘You know, I’m from Sălaj!’ They come tell you small town stories. Their shy pride in their humble place of birth. They’re not from the capital. How does that feel? It’s like a circle in which you said a story… Could you tell me a few? Or perhaps you finished that chapter, now you’re making another film with rockers whatnot, but you still have people telling you, ‘You know, I have a film idea for you: what happened to me when I took a bisnitari/black marketeers’ bus to Hungary, and they kept us there for days on end. Marian, wouldn’t you like to make a coproduction?’ How does it feel to have now people come pitch their story ideas? I’m tempted to make a proposition myself. In 2,000 I took a group of African-American missionaries to my hometown Zalău. At first mom was bewildered, ‘Have you lost your mind, my daughter?’ but in three days she was talking shop, debating civil rights movement over lunch with them.
MC: You could write a novel! Send me a screenplay.
EV: Alright. The townspeople were shrieking on the street, they never saw black people before. The missionaries were a hit. In the end the missionary minister married a girl from Zalău, divorced and abandoned his wife in Chicago with their 5 kids, then after the Romanian woman got her green card she divorced him.
But what do you do when people come tell you their stories? I see you’re glad to hear mine!
MC: I’m curious to hear stories. One of my short movies started from an encounter on a train with a high school friend, after 10 years. She told me she took the Salonta kids on weekends to Oradea, that is 40 km, to MacDonald’s. "MacDonald’s is one of our little moments of happiness. This stuck in my head. It took me 2 years until I managed to write it, fictionalized, sure, and now it’s a movie. But there has to be that primary moment, so the impression is strong enough to make you write for months and months. You take your vows with the story to finish it. If you finish it. You might not finish it. You start it, and maybe you finish it, maybe you don’t finish it.
EV: I know, oh, how I know about this. Well, there’re many things to talk about, but I want to ask you about… There is an absence in the movie.
The absence, the memories of the years before, of how it used to be before the EU, before the revolution, are somehow embedded in the film.
Where are the young people in the village landscape? Missing. Some, a few, go to the soccer game. The son is away attending college. Where are the Gypsies? Gone too! They’re mentioned all the time, but absent on the screen. The Kurd is passing for a Gypsy. One of the characters says, “I don't know why I’m doing this, driving along the border with a Turk in my car. We should get him Romanian citizenship, as if we don’t have enough Gypsies as it is.” The Kurd becomes the town’s Gypsy.
The absence was interesting to me.
MC: Well, this is part of the film, but also part of our reality. That’s how it is, the youngest generations leave. Cluj, Oradea, Bucharest, to university, then they stay there. From amongst my friends, out of 10, I think just one or two went back to Salonta, the rest are in Cluj. Anyway, the film is not about Salonta’s youth. Actually the border police are guys in their 30s and they are from Salonta.
But about the Gypsies, well, the Gypsies don’t live on these farms. The film has mainly this landscape of fields, ravines, empty endless spaces. The Gypsies of Salonta live in a small neighborhood, in Cigán Város, and they are quite interesting characters, but the film is not about them. It’s a bit rough and harsh that Gypsy slurs are thrown in the Turk’s face, but this is what goes on. And why shouldn’t we say it, since the Gypsies don’t get upset, they know it very well. And let me add, they are Gypsies not Rroms, and proud about it. They’re a very interesting culture. It is what it is, I can’t change it with a film.
EV: No, no, no, the absence was what got my goat.
What are your doing outside the festival? Have you visited the Romanian community here in Queens?
MC: No. Give them my best regards.
EV: Man, this is not Salonta to go hugging people around!
Quickly Marian drifted away, window shopping in the gift store chockfull with New York memorabilia.
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.