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Radu Mihaileanu • Director

“Humour is the ultimate weapon against dictators”


- Cineuropa met with the French-Romanian director after the out-of-competition screening of his fourth feature film, The Concert, at the 2009 Rome Film Festival

Radu  Mihaileanu • Director

Like Train of Life, The Concert [+see also:
film review
interview: Radu Mihaileanu
film profile
also centres on the theme of positive imposture; the creation of an over-the-top “fake” (a train of deportees or an orchestra) in order to rewrite history. The idea probably comes from the director’s own life story: "This is a theme that pervades me despite everything. It might be linked to the fact that my father, who was called Buchman, had to change his name during the war to survive. He became Mihaileanu so he could face first the Nazi, then the Stalinist, regime."

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Cineuropa: Why do you use humour to respond to the drama of history?
Radu Mihaileanu: Because I’m not a violent person and humour is the ultimate weapon I have against the dictators that have marked my life and the lives of my loved ones. I use it to battle barbarism and death, to show that we’re stronger than they are, that we’re still alive so we’ve won.

The film has a very Russian sensibility.
I was born in Romania, at the crossroads of three empires: Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman. But I feel very Slavic because I’m full of exuberant energy. I recognise myself in the word “barbarian”. I love barbarians. Europe needs a bit of this energy.

How did you prepare to talk about a country that is not exactly your own?
I’ve spent a lot of time doing research for all the films I’ve shot. For this one, I spent many weeks in Moscow in order to get close to a reality that, as often happens, is stronger than fiction. So much so that people spoke of things I had difficulty including in the film because they could have seemed excessive.

We went to the homes of people who were humiliated and impoverished by the regime, to see how they live. The difficulty lies in finding the right does of these elements, knowing when to stop and not allowing yourself to get too caught up by the emotions. So I tried to not leave too much to the past in the dialogue between past and present.

Another aspect of your films is the speed with which events happen…
That corresponds to my internal engine. I have only one life to live. I keep coming back to something dear to me: the West is rich but somewhat asleep. We’re barbarians and madmen full of life. We have your wealth without the castles of the Loire. Which are grandiose but the rivers beneath them run very slowly….

How do you think the film will be received in Moscow?
We already had a preview there. I was terrified, especially about the line that the director of the Parisian theatre says: “Russians are like mules, to make them keep moving you have to hit them over the head". But the audience laughed a lot.

You also destroy the myth of the Bolshoi.
It probably isn’t what it was 20 or 30 years ago. For example, the façade has been under restoration for years, never completed. But the film doesn’t criticize it, I just wanted to pay homage to the great tradition of Russian music. I know that snobbish critics don’t love Tchaikovsky because they consider the emotions to be too vulgar. But I think he’s the very soul of Slavic sensibility and of my film.

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