"The way the movie is made gives you every opportunity to notice its shortcomings"
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Cineuropa talked to Andrei Cohn, the director of Back Home, shown in competition at the Sarajevo International Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What aspect of Mimi Brănescu’s screenplay convinced you to make Back Home [+see also:
interview: Andrei Cohn
interview: Andrei Cohn
Andrei Cohn: It was Robert, the main character. I have written screenplays before, always putting some distance between them and my own life, a strategy that’s necessary if you want an efficient form of documentation. In this case, however, I was happy to discover that I was so close to the characters myself; I had a different relationship with the story. The painter Florin Ciubotaru, a former teacher of mine, used to say that in art one shouldn’t notice the smell of sweat. I think that when a director tackles a story written by someone else, he or she must make the story sweat and assimilate it on a very personal level. Only when this is accomplished can the screenplay become a film.
Robert’s existential indecision, which was somewhat familiar to me, was the first personal contact I had with the story. Both his clumsy efforts to recover his lost vitality and the relationship between his values and those of the other characters create a conflict that I considered important and that I wanted to convey together with Robert.
The perspective of the female characters seems to take priority in your film. Are women more mature than men, more willing to enjoy the little they have instead of daydreaming and realising the extent of their failure?
I consider “daydreaming” and “realising the extent of one’s failure” to be beneficial, healthy forms of anxiety. Even when one is enjoying a successful life, going back to one’s values scale should induce a feeling of failure. In the case of the women in my film, I don’t consider their calmness a form of harmony with the universe, but a rather sad and context-enforced limitation. Paula’s bathroom or Iuliana’s relationship with Robert’s father are prone to creating problems even more serious than those of the boys. As for Mia, her situation is far from enviable.
What is the biggest challenge that Back Home posed in terms of directing?
Above and beyond any of the aesthetic challenges of this screenplay, the dialogues are exhausting: it is impossible to separate directing and acting in relation with Back Home. There is no manipulation in terms of the film’s style; actually, the way the movie is made gives you every opportunity to notice its shortcomings. I tried to show the text in the most direct form possible.
Back Home is part of a new trend in Romanian cinema, a trend that ignores Bucharest and favours the provinces. Do you think there is a need for a diversification of topics in Romanian cinema?
Even if such a trend exists, Back Home being part of it was not deliberate. Its screenplay was written long ago, and I decided to shoot it in the village of 2 Mai only because the story was set in a village, and 2 Mai was very familiar to me. I have a childhood friend there whom I meet every so often, and these meetings were really helpful in picturing the relationship between Robert and Petrică. I do not think that Romanian cinema should change direction as a whole; I think that filmmakers should tell their stories without considering the whole cinematic landscape of the country.
How difficult is it to be a first-time director in present-day Romania?
I have no idea if it’s unique to Romania, but it’s terrible. Besides the chance to make your first feature, which is the most talked-about aspect before the first day of shooting, one needs a gigantic disposition towards hard work and frustration. But the chance to make your first feature motivates you to push things to fruition. You need to fight your doubts, but especially the doubts of many of those you work with – a fight that pushed Back Home back several years.
Are you preparing a new feature? What is it about?
I am currently writing a new screenplay based on research about dualism, about a man’s inclination towards good or evil in the context of murder.