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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2023 Competition

Cristi Puiu • Director of MMXX

“Preaching is the most disgraceful position for an artist to be put in”


- The Romanian filmmaker chatted to us about what made him tackle the year of the pandemic in his latest, hard-hitting, fairly well-observed film

Cristi Puiu  • Director of MMXX

Cristi Puiu, one of the most revered Romanian filmmakers, is back with MMXX [+see also:
film review
interview: Cristi Puiu
film profile
, a film about our lives during 2020. It is competing for the Golden Shell at the 71st San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Cineuropa: What did you see in 2020 that made you want to make this film?
Cristi Puiu:
It was actually during 2021, after that awful year. Dorian Boguță and Dragoș Bucur, who play the policemen in the film’s last episode, invited me to do a workshop in their acting school, and the film came out of it; it was actually eight stories, in two different films. This is the first film we could make, and we need money to finish the other one. I was closer to the stories in this first one than I am to those in the upcoming one, which is based more on the perspectives of the workshop participants. But this whole project came from a need to escape these dark times that we were forced to visit. Actually, before 2020, I was thinking about making another film but everything just disappeared. I have a hard time understanding things at the moment.

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Do you mean the situation in the industry, or in the world?
I don’t understand the world. Everything seems to me like a joke, unserious. And I don't understand why we are silent about it. It's like being silent about evil. We have dealt with evil and we still are dealing with it. You might think you are on the good side of history, but that's not true. We are just collaborators of evil, and I realised this during this pandemic. The limits of our honesty towards ourselves and others, the limits of our love for others. This egoistic drive that makes a potential killer out of anyone, if we can say so. It didn't happen, but it could happen. And we just had to live through this moment, which was quite soft if we compare it to World War II, to the war in Yugoslavia some years ago, to the current wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Ukraine.

There was this motto in some countries, saying “we will come out as better persons after this.” I believe you don’t agree…
No, we didn't learn anything from it. Nobody learns anything. You live through a very dark experience and then a few years later you are ready to do the same evil thing to your neighbour. Being on the good side of the history is not something that comes with your birth certificate. You have to struggle. We allow ourselves to accept the model of the world that comes to us through education, because we think we are important. But we are only important if you are going to do something for others. And I believe these limits that were put up during that time, even if it wasn’t their intention, showed how easy it is to put an end to our tendency, if there is one, to help others.

Don't you think that those limits were put there precisely to help others?
I don't believe this. I think they just enforced our egoism. People rely on information that is extremely debatable, and if we end the dialogue between us, you cannot do anything. Dialogue was perceived as an aggression then. When the pandemic came, we didn't consider some acts as tyrannic anymore, we just accepted them. And precisely because evil is there, you have to feed the dialogue. Of course you have to take decisions, but you have to help people in order not to create fear in them, which is what happened.

Anyway, only in 20 years will we be able to articulate fiction about this, because we need time to do these things. 30 years after the so-called Romanian revolution, nobody knows precisely what happened. It was a people’s revolt, yes, but it was hiding the coup d'état that was taking place. The historians agree upon that now — and we will have a similar revelation regarding the pandemic. I understand, it’s a self-defence mechanism, you have to protect yourself in order to justify your presence on this planet. It's very hard to confront the truth because it’s something impossible to articulate.

The first story is very telling when it comes to self-protection, egoism, borders against others…
Communication can’t be possible because everyone is listening to their own stories, and we search for our own stories in the stories of others. This is just feeding your ego, it is not understanding what the world is being made of. Success has to do with egoism, success doesn’t have to do with the spontaneous appreciation of others, it comes because you pushed everything towards your goal, and once you are there, you tell people what to do and what to think. Real success belongs to anonymous people in this world, who are doing their job silently.

Don’t you think the pandemic helped people realise some of these things?
It at least helped me understand them. I understood my limits. Anything, good or bad, that happens to you, if you are paying attention, models your perception of the world, and an event with such magnitude made me question my condition as a human being.

During the film’s screenings, there have been several walkouts, yet your film is probably the closest to people’s lives. Why do you think people don’t want to see that?
Because people are intelligent, because they can decode the story, and they are fearful because they’re cowards, they don’t want to confront their own selves and their decisions in such a recent past. It’s only been 3 years. Imagine, after World War II, how much time passed until films started discussing it. Yes, there was Rossellini making Germany, Year Zero, but not a lot of people were ready to see it back then. Only a bunch were willing to see the restoration, through the means of art, of the truth of such a dark moment. It’s too painful.

So you understand that from people.
Of course I understand! And anyway, I’m not able to do anything in order to change what already happened. This is what I would like not to happen with this film, as I try to do in all my films: I would like to avoid preaching. Preaching is the most disgraceful position for an artist to be put in. Who is anyone to preach to us?

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