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Anatol Durbală • Director of Varvara

“Among crooks, the righteous seem crooked everywhere”


- The Moldovan director explains how a religious fresco becomes a symbol of rectitude and normality in his second feature

Anatol Durbală  • Director of Varvara

In 2014, Moldovan director-screenwriter-actor Anatol Durbală’s What a Wonderful World [+see also:
film review
film profile
was one of the few features produced in Moldova that decade, and probably the only one to win a FIPRESCI Award (in Warsaw’s 1-2 Competition). Nine years later, Durbală returns with Varvara [+see also:
interview: Anatol Durbală
film profile
, the story of a young employee of the national gas company who refuses to deface a church icon when he is asked to install a boiler. Here is what the director has to say about his movie’s message and working in a film industry that is still waiting for better days. Varvara is currently screening at the Zurich Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea for this film come about?
Anatol Durbală:
The idea popped into my head one night when I saw a photo on Facebook. The picture featured two saints painted on the wall of a church, with two pipes protruding from their mouths. When I saw it, I felt as if I had been struck by lightning. Even though I am not a religious person, I still wondered what it must have taken to have been able to make those holes in the wall, ruining the face of an icon. I assumed that something like this had happened somewhere far away, but after a quick investigation, I discovered, to my utter astonishment, that the photo was actually taken in a church in the very centre of Bucharest. I went there, the pipes were indeed gone, but the damage was still visible. My imagination immediately caught fire, and almost two years later, the screenplay was ready.

Both What a Wonderful World and Varvara talk about the difficulty of staying morally upright in a crooked world. At first glance, they seem to reflect Moldovan society, but aren’t they universal stories?
They are, indeed. The fact that normality has become almost a defect, a deficiency, seems to me to be a “phenomenon” happening not only in Moldova and Romania, unfortunately. Perhaps it manifests itself in other forms, maybe not as stridently as here, but among crooks, the righteous seem crooked everywhere.

Your character, Sasha, is not driven by faith in his desire to save the fresco. Were you concerned with religion when you wrote the script, or is the fresco a metaphor?
Of course he's not driven by faith, and I'm very glad you perceived it that way. Sasha enters the church just as he would enter a flat where he has to change the meter. Sasha doesn't make the sign of the cross even once in the film. And yet... The priest welcomes him with: “God himself has brought you.” We have this saying, “godless man”, which implies a man without faith, without a moral compass, without ethics. And yet Sasha proves to have more of all of those than that priest. For me, Sasha is a kind of modern-day Don Quixote, and the fresco is indeed a metaphor. It was this face surrounded by a nimbus, with its mouth destroyed by a pipe, that urged me the most to turn this story into a film. As film language advises: show, don't tell! And it seemed to me that this image said much more than the characters could say and more than I, as the author, could say through them.

It's been almost a decade since What a Wonderful World. How has the Moldovan film industry changed during this time?
I wouldn't be too hasty to use the term “film industry” in relation to what's going on with filmmaking in Moldova now, but things have certainly moved forward. There's a huge difference between what's being done now and what was being done when I was shooting What a Wonderful World. The [Moldovan] National Film Center has come into being, the state has allocated some money for films – extremely little money, but enough to spark a small wave of ideas and people determined to make films, spurred on by another spark of hope that they might even succeed. This autumn alone, for example, three features will be released. When was the last time this happened? We are on the right path, I would say.

What do you think should change in order for Moldovan filmmakers to make more films and for these movies to be more visible internationally?
First of all, they should learn more things. And I'm not just talking about how to direct or how to write screenplays. They should learn to think freely, to have courage and drive, to have guts. Learn English, learn to “sell” their ideas beautifully, learn to instil their filmmaking enthusiasm in people with the power to help them financially. The state should at least triple the amount allocated to film production. The Film Law should be updated, a film fund should be created and so on. 

It was a surprise that Thunders, which hasn’t travelled at all internationally, will represent Moldova at next year's Academy Awards, and not Varvara [see the news]. How did this happen?
I can't expand on this topic for several reasons, the main one being that I haven't yet seen that film. But I know it was made by a very talented young man whom I appreciate and respect, Ioane Bobeică, and I'm sure it's a good film. Secondly, the people who choose [the Academy candidate] are also creators; they have their own tastes. It is their right, their obligation even, to make a decision based exactly on their tastes, on their way of perceiving things. As they have made their decision, all I can do is congratulate the team behind Thunders and wish them every success. As far as I am concerned, I will move on. Life and cinema always go on.

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