Octave strives to shine a warmer light on Romania
by Joseph Proimakis
- Aiming to present a different view of Romanian cinema, this big-budget production tackles the issues of lost love and lost causes
It's a rainy day at the Bucharest Film Studios, and in what used to be a lot exclusively reserved for propaganda films of the communist era, a €1.4 million production is diligently working towards ushering in a new age for Romanian cinema: an age that shines the spotlight on an extroverted cinematic landscape aiming to blend crowd-pleasing narratives with international arthouse acclaim.
Octave, one of the country’s highest-budget films in recent years, is the story of a man returning to a home long lost, a country struggling to regain its stride, a nation looking for its place in the West. This struggle is depicted through the titular character’s journey: that of an elderly man returning to his family home, a house taken by the communist cause, which has now been reclaimed by its rightful owner, as have the memories of an age long gone.
“We first talked about [this project] three years ago, and it was kind of love at first sight,” celebrated actor Marcel Iures notes of his starring role as Octave. “I had a feeling beforehand that I would get this kind of biographical character at some point, and it’s peculiar that I’ve never read anything like this in Romanian cinema in the last 25 years. It’s a huge internal challenge; I had to rediscover myself, in a way, which is absolutely new for me.”
The crew includes acclaimed Italian DoP Blasco Giurato (of Cinema Paradiso fame), the two of them bringing decades of experience to a script co-written by newcomer James Olivier and Serge Ioan Celebidachi, with the latter also directing the film produced by Adela Vrinceanu.
“For me, it’s a story about life, birth, death and nostalgia. The Romanian aspect came much later,” recounts Celebidachi, whose father’s (acclaimed conductor Sergiu Celebidachi) life served as a loose inspiration for the film. “We wrote it in French 30 years ago,” he reveals, explaining that moving the drama from Paris to Bucharest and placing the story in a Romanian context “made it more interesting because it meant that this character hasn’t visited his childhood house in almost 50 years of communism, so this big break of half a century has such an impact on him when he returns that it immediately sends him back to his childhood”.
“We actually started writing the film when we were 18 or 19 years old,” recounts co-writer James Olivier. “For a lot of people, that’s the stage where you’re moving from childhood to adulthood, and those beautiful memories are still there, but you know you’re not going to be able to access them so freely as time passes by,” he notes.
With Romanian cinema having tied itself to certain preconceptions regarding both its themes and its stories, as well as its look and feel, one cannot help but wonder how that might hinder the film’s aspirations at the local and international box office as well as on the festival circuit. “We are totally puzzled,” says Celebidachi, “but we’re just making a film that has this opportunity to show a different Romania, a country bathed in sunshine, where there are happy, normal people; it’s a film that offers you the opportunity to go back to 1932 and see a bit of opulent Romania, a country with a wonderful past that it can be proud of.”
“It’s true,” producer Vrinceanu concurs, “that films from Romania are expected to be of a certain style, which is very different to ours, but I think that with the cast and crew that we have, with Blasco and Marcel, and with Vladimir Cosma doing the music, it’s a movie that will bring people to theatres, at least here in Romania. Outside the country, I think we just have to find the right angle for each territory and tap into each country’s sensitivity – and besides, when you have a budget of over €1.35 million, you’ll at least have curiosity on your side, and things will progress from there.”
Produced by Vrinceanu for Oblique Media Film, with Grace Warrington serving as production assistant for Celebfilms, and with Astra Entertainment also sharing production credits, the film is aiming for a 2017 opening date.