The Romanian director discusses his new film, Aurora, and reveals his love-hate relationship with cinema.
It has been two years since LWLies first met Romanian director Cristi Puiu, at the BFI London Film Festival, where his film Aurora had its UK premiere. The publication of the interview was to coincide with the film's UK theatrical release. Sadly it's taken until now for the film to secured a release at the Curzon Soho, where it opens on November 9. It's an all-too familiar story of a foreign language movie receiving a belated UK release.
Following The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Aurora is the second instalment from Puiu's Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest. Set against a broken landscape of post communist Romania it documents 36 hours in the life of a murderer (played by Puiu). LWLies spoke with Puiu about how his approach to filmmaking has changed over the years.
LWLies: It's been five years since you made The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Why so long?
Puiu: I was questioning myself about the reasons for making another film. I'm not the kind of director who dreams of becoming a director. I am not interested in the cinema. I am as interested in the cinema as in anything else I am doing. I was into painting and I am still interested in painting. I am very interested in cooking and reading and all the other things I am doing. Making a film is very serious. I had to make a movie about something important to me.
You've had a script ready four years ago.
No, it's a different story. In 2006 I was in Cannes with a project called Scene of a Crime. I wanted to make this film and I received money from the National Centre of Cinema in Bucharest. Next year, I submitted two development projects they didn't give me the money for either. It was around 3000-5000 Euros. This is the money that allows you to stay at home and write your script, not making adverts. They didn't want to give me the money. I had an argument with them, they were very aggressive. So I told them that I wasn't going to make the film. I decided to give the money back. This is the only time in the history of Romanian cinema that somebody has done that.
In February 2004 I got a Golden Bear for a short film called Cigarettes and Coffee. This maybe means nothing, but it means something for Romanian cinema. In March or April I submitted a script for Mr. Lazarescu and they didn't give me the money. I received very bad feedback. I was really pissed off and I went to a Minister of Culture. Everybody hated me because of that; the journalists, the critics, my colleagues, the directors – not all of them, but most of them. So it's hard. It is maybe my destiny. I made Mr. Lazarescu in 2005. The premiere of my first film [Stuff and Dough] was in 2001. So again it was a four-year gap. Romania is hard. There is sort of a creative black hole there.
The premise of your new film seems to be encapsulated in Little Red Riding Hood scene. At the beginning of the film a woman recounts an observation made by their daughter. When the hunter cuts granny out of the wolf's belly, she should be naked since the wolf is wearing her clothes. Was this idea of demythologising crime your aim?
It's a good point. I've never thought of it. I think you're right. In fact this is an observation my daughter made, when she was five-years-old. I've got a problem with fairy tales. There is a certain fairy tale ending that I dislike. It bothers me when they say 'And they live together happily ever after...' It's bullshit. I really think the percentage of divorce is coming from there. [People] unconsciously have got those expectancies. Maybe instead of saying this to kids, it's good to say, 'And they try to get along together. They had conflicts. They had moments of happiness. They lived a long life.' Stay optimistic about it, but don't create false expectations...
You've mentioned previously that you see yourself in all characters of the film. Would you say the same thing about Aurora?
I think so, yes. I am this character. I don't think that I am in the other characters. It is true in Mr. Lazarescu I did write lines belonging to me. Almost all the doctors at a certain point are saying things that I am saying in real life. Lazarescu as well, but more the doctors. Lazarescu was something like my father and grandfather. I wanted in fact to restore somehow their behaviour, relation they had with people, the world. In Aurora, I am this character. Being an actor is about knowing yourself. It is being able and having the will to understand, to research, to investigate yourself, to find yourself. So I did it, I exposed myself.
Do you think you're going to cast yourself again?
I don't know. I like it very much. I don't have any problem with acting. I had a problem with the shower scene but that was only the first take. But I was in a privileged situation. I will never be an actor [for anyone else] because I cannot stand somebody telling me what to do. I have a problem with it. But again maybe there are people who tell me what to do and I will accept it. It's very hard to articulate something about this experience because it was just one experience and it was a privileged experience – me being directed by myself. It's very hard to be an actor.
Has your approach to filming changed during these last five years?
I think so, yes. It has changed because I'm very interested in what cinema is and I think cinema is not what they want us to believe. It's like a painting. A painting is behind the figure. When you look at Cézanne's Still Life with Apples, you think the apples are so beautiful. But the painting is not the apples. Cinema is something else. It is not the story films are telling us; it is something else and this is what I am interested in. For me cinema is not something that eliminates the story, but the order in my priority list is different. For the most part narrative films coming from Hollywood drama, characters and acting are the most important. We cut films according to criteria. So I think [my approach] changed and it changed in this direction. I started taking film very seriously. On the horizon there's a silhouette and it's cinema and I think I'm going there.
Your films are quite dark. Do you think your next will be more affirmative?
But they are affirmative as well. I think it's to do with their very intimate structure. I don't think that we are in position to know, to point out what is true, what is false. I think we are in the position to restore how the world and life appear from our window. This is what I am trying to do.