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Vlad Petri • Director of Between Revolutions

“I consider that the most important revolutions of the second half of the 20th century happened in Iran and Romania”


- The Romanian filmmaker reveals the cultural inspiration and the factual research underpinning his fictionalised, poetic documentary

Vlad Petri  • Director of Between Revolutions

We sat down with Vlad Petri, whose hybrid work Between Revolutions [+see also:
film review
interview: Vlad Petri
film profile
has just won both the Best Feature Film and the FIPRESCI Awards in the Romanian Days competition of the 22nd Transilvania International Film Festival (see the news).

Cineuropa: Many parallels were drawn between the collapses of the political systems in the Eastern European countries, but one would rarely look for similarities between them and events in Iran. How did you come up with such a comparison?
Vlad Petri:
I have been interested in the Middle East for a long time and have travelled to Iran twice. The country is in my personal and professional focus, and I have been studying the Persian language for four years already – my Iranian friends keep telling me that when the regime falls, I should be the first citizen of the new republic.

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The initial idea emerged from my interest in the foreign students who were coming to communist countries during the 1980s. I have also heard stories from my mother, who studied Medicine, and then I dug into the Secret Service’s archives as well. Ceausescu’s Romania had a special relationship with the Middle East because of its anti-imperialist policies. And I consider that the most important revolutions of the second half of the 20th century happened in Iran and Romania – the crucial Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought about a big change and came with many hopes, which were unfortunately unjustified, while the Romanian one in 1989 happened to be the first extremely televised revolution. It was closely documented on TV, and the footage we have today lies between documentary and fiction, like TV theatre. The legitimisation on TV was needed by the new government; therefore, visual manipulations commenced even before Ceausescu was executed. And now we see how this approach has become a trend in livestream TV.

The letters exchanged by the two women were inspired by Secret Police files. What kind of documents did you actually encounter there?
The letters are written by Lavinia Braniște, who is a very talented and famous contemporary writer; we worked together on the script. We found real letters and files from the records about how the Secret Police followed all of the foreign students. They also tried to push them into arranged marriages with Romanian people in order to be able to spy and gain secret information – if those foreigners worked for their governments, they would have access to the exported information. For example, we found fragments from Iranian letters talking about bringing Islam to Eastern Europe. I wanted to explore how the lives in those different realities intersected. My mother’s correspondence also helped – the Romanian character, Maria, is based on hers and the experiences of Lavinia’s mother. The Iranian character, Zahra, is mostly inspired by books that we have read. But overall, the stories are fictional, although we did not want to reveal this to the viewers from the very beginning, so that they could remain emotionally engaged.

This approach also contributes to creating a certain ambiguity, which makes the story even more intriguing.
I preferred to leave some things blurry. The relationship between the two women could also be perceived as a love story. Some viewers wanted a firm answer from me about it, but I would not give a definite interpretation, as I wanted each person’s perception to be unique. What is important to me is that I received good feedback from Iranian people. This leads me to think that we have managed to achieve authenticity.

You must have had easier access to the Romanian archival footage. What about the Iranian material, though?
It was indeed easier with the Romanian footage, although we started the film during the pandemic, when the institutions were closed. We still managed to research material and digitalise from 35 mm. In Iran, we were lucky to find the right person who helped us investigate little-known archives and find what we were looking for. They don’t have national archives there, so it all happened through people. We also used TV material, which was negotiated through our Iranian co-producer. What appears in the film is rare footage. Iranians told me they had never seen these images before.

Towards the end, there is a statement by the Romanian character that all revolutions are confiscated. Was the Romanian Revolution confiscated, and if so, by whom?
That line is part of the development of Maria’s character: she already knows from Zahra what happened with the revolution in Iran, so she is not so optimistic about the Romanian one, which comes a decade later. My parents, for example, like millions of other Romanians, were very naïve: they thought the country would miraculously turn into a paradise after the fall of communism. The confiscation refers to the arrival of harsh capitalism, illustrated in the film by the images of people buying expensive cars, drinking Coca-Cola and immediately integrating Western consumerist symbols into life in Romania. However, many others lost their jobs and savings because of inflation. Their future was confiscated by the economically powerful elite, the so-called “new rich” who maintained connections with the representatives of the former communist authorities or mafia structures. Any solidarity was also totally dissolved.

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