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Gabriel Achim • Director of Snowing Darkness

"As a child, I daydreamed about killing Nicolae Ceauşescu"


- The Romanian director discusses the premises of probably his most personal and cryptic film to date

Gabriel Achim • Director of Snowing Darkness

After having its world premiere in the selection of last year's Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and after making its national debut in the selection of the Transilvania International Film Festival, Romanian director Gabriel Achim’s third feature Snowing Darkness [+see also:
film review
interview: Gabriel Achim
film profile
is currently screening in Romanian cinemas. Here is what the director has to say about art as therapy, the first Romanian New Wave feature with a happy ending, and how not making a certain film can actually become another film.

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Cineuropa: When we first talked about Snowing Darkness (read the news), you told me that all your films are actually re-conceptualisations of projects you were not able to make. Snowing Darkness is the re-conceptualisation of what?
Gabriel Achim: While I was writing the screenplay, I struggled with Raw and Cooked, a feature about an alternative history of the death of the Ceauşescus, in the vein of [Quentin Tarantino’s] Inglorious Basterds if you want. The project won several development awards, it secured both financial support from the Media Programme and a French co-producer, and yet it never got more than 5 out of 10 points when submitted in the screenplay competitions organised by the [Romanian] National Film Center.

As a child, I daydreamed about killing Nicolae Ceauşescu. I thought about a myriad of approaches, for example using a sniper rifle, or detonating enough dynamite to destroy his helicopter as it landed in my grandparents’ corn field. And I had a myriad of reasons to daydream about this, the strongest being the fact that we were not allowed more than 15 minutes-worth of cartoons per week, something you could so easily miss if you wanted to sleep in on those Sunday mornings.

Raw and Cooked was an upside-down approach to my childhood dreams, and by this I mean that in my film, I didn’t want to find the best option to kill the dictator (who in reality had been dead for three decades), but to save him. For this I even imagined a road movie where he flees the fury of a lynching mob disguised as Santa Clause. To cut it short, with Raw and Cooked I wanted to approximate the fragility of our humanity.

But I was soon conquered by depression when I realised the chances to make that film were impossibly slim. I tried to get better with [my second feature] The Last Day [+see also:
interview: Gabriel Achim
film profile
, but that film made things even worse. I couldn’t understand how such a good film is not interesting for festivals and, even more importantly, is not able to help me more easily make my next film. Again, to cut it short, here is where I started with Snowing Darkness. But instead of saving Ceauşescu, I tried to save myself.

Your Facebook account is probably the funniest among Romanian directors. Simultaneously, you say your films “are born from depression.” Is humour a coping mechanism?
Clearly, the best humour is dark humour, which can only be born from desperation. Ricky Gervais suffers from depression, and that is exactly why his humour is so good and implacable. Other examples are Woody Allen and even Lars von Trier. It’s not my place to say whether humour is a coping mechanism, but I am sure it is a fair tool if one wants to survive.

Can you offer the audience a key to better understand Snowing Darkness?
A very good friend, who is gone now, told me a story about his grandmother, who took care of him as a newborn. He cried continuously, no matter what she did in order to calm him. At her wits' end, she threatened to throw the child from her window on the fourth floor. She opened the window and as she wanted to throw him out, her eyes met the gaze of a passer-by. Meeting another person's gaze made her come back to her senses, completely shocked that she actually thought about throwing her newborn grandson out of the window! I would say that gaze is a key to better understanding my film.

Do you think cinema can be therapeutic?
I don’t really believe in the power of art as therapy. Maybe some viewers find help in watching a film, but my opinion is that the filmmaker doesn’t find help in making it. Quite the opposite, actually. It certainly didn’t help me. As it happens in my film, using art as therapy actually comes with supplementary costs. And I also believe that for most viewers in need for help, art and culture can be even more confusing. People do not want to confront themselves in the mirror that the artist is supposed to put in front of them. And a [professional] diagnostic and this confrontation are essential steps in therapy. 

Are you working on a new feature? What is it about?
I am adapting Florin Lăzărescu’s new popular novel "I leave by night and I return before morning." It is a story based on what happened to Florin’s father, a story about a worker on a construction site who has to face several dangers. And exactly when one might think evil has completely swallowed his life, he is overwhelmed by good. It will certainly be the first Romanian New Wave film with a happy ending. Well, almost a happy ending.

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