Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NYT:The Banality of Evil, Romanian-Style


NYT
ArtsBeat
The Culture at Large

MAY 17, 2010
The Banality of Evil, Romanian-Style
By DENNIS LIM


CANNES, France— No national cinema has had a higher profile at Cannes in recent years than that of Romania. Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” won the Palme d’Or in 2007. Corneliu Porumboiu took home the Camera d’Or for best first feature in 2006 with “12:08 East of Bucharest” and returned last year with the well-received “Police, Adjective.” But the film that kicked off the Romanian renaissance, in 2005, was Cristi Puiu’s “Death of Mr. Lazarescu,” a three-hour black comedy about a Bucharest old-timer’s nightmarish odyssey through the Romanian health care system.

Mr. Puiu is back at Cannes with his third feature,“Aurora,” which Manohla Dargis called “a slow-burning tour de force” in her Saturday dispatch. The Romanian house style — long takes, big blocks of real time — is by now familiar to cinephiles, but Mr. Puiu puts this scrupulous naturalism to new and seemingly perverse ends. “Aurora” follows an unnervingly opaque man of mystery, played by the director, over a 36-hour period as he goes about his humdrum life and, in a couple of jolting scenes, commits several acts of violence.

“I know it’s a hard film to put a label on,” Mr. Puiu said during an interview here. “But this is pretty much the film I wanted to make.” Here are excerpts from the conversation:

Q. What was the starting point for “Aurora”?

A. One night I switched on the television and saw this program which showed the testimonies of murderers and criminals. They were all delivering a sort of fiction about the facts. It was obvious that they couldn’t really put into words what they did and it was self-preservation instincts that made them build up these stories around the facts, creating reasons and motivations with bits of their own philosophy of life — a whole package of fiction.

Q.How did you end up taking on the lead role?

A. I listened to testimonies and read books and watched documentaries, but I realized that to do this properly, I had to search for the criminal inside myself. I had to subscribe to what Flaubert said: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” After months of searching for an actor, Clara Voda, an actress in the film, told me, “Try yourself.” At first I thought I’m too shy, but something interested me when I was auditioning myself. There was something about my look. It was the look of a person who’s concerned by something — I was concerned by my film — and that was what I was looking for, somebody who is looking inside his brain somehow.

Q.You worked with four cinematographers, and the film has a very meticulous visual style. Was it a difficult process having to be both behind and in front of the camera?

A. On “Lazarescu” we shot 39 nights and this one was 80 days. I needed the time to integrate this condition of also being in front of the camera — it was completely schizophrenic. I kept saying to the camera guys to try to watch this character like a father who’s looking at his son who’s taking his first step, and any moment he could fall down and break his leg. It implies love, but it’s also a bit scary.

Q.Much of what we see in “Aurora” seems banal and haphazard, but in retrospect it’s quite a precisely structured movie — can you talk about finding the form of the film?

A. I wanted to repeat the direct-cinema, observational-documentary approach from “Lazarescu,” to create the film in the editing room. But I knew it was important to have the three moments: the time before, in between, and after the killings. It is the same character but our perception of him is changing. I wanted the film to denounce the causality that we install while watching a film or reading a book. This causality is a cultural construction and we need it to survive, but when you get closer to things, it’s not that simple.

Q. I imagine it’s a film that will play very differently on a second viewing.

A. The film has the shape — if I might say without any pretension — of a palimpsest. You have to discover what is behind the things you see. If you didn’t get inside the film the first time, it is very hard to come back to it. But if you did, I think you will be interested to discover things you couldn’t see the first time because of your expectations.

In “The Death of Mr Lazarescu” the title appears and you know this old man is going to die. It’s the model of “Titanic” — everybody knows entering the cinema what will happen, and the accent is on how things will happen. But in “Aurora” I tried to build the film on the unpredictability of the character’s trajectory.

Q. What’s the significance of the title? You’ve said it relates to F.W. Murnau’s silent classic “Sunrise,” which is called “L’Aurore” in French, and is a much more optimistic film than yours.

A. Murnau’s film is about his hopes concerning the relationship between a man and a woman, what that should be. This film is about what I think is the relationship between human beings. Murnau’s idea requires a great amount of tolerance. I don’t know what real life is like outside Romania, but in Bucharest, where I live, relationships are pretty brutal.

The film is about the beginning of a new life for the main character and all the others who are engaged with him. The sunrise is a transitory moment — you cannot say if is night or day, if it will be a cloudy day or a sunny day — but it is about a beginning.


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