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TRANSILVANIA 2024

Claudiu Mitcu • Director of Rusalka

“I wanted to make a film that explores how we relate to life when we start to feel we don't have much time left”

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- The Romanian director tells us more about his meditative, existential drama and his shift from documentary to fiction

Claudiu Mitcu • Director of Rusalka
(© Vlad Braga/Transilvania IFF)

Claudiu Mitcu has racked up extensive experience as an editor for Romanian public television channel TVR, a solid filmography as a documentary director, with The Trial [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Anniversary [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
among his most renowned titles, and а good track record as a producer, having backed movies such as Monsters. [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Marius Olteanu
film profile
]
and You Are Ceauseascu to Me [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
with his company, Wearebasca. On the occasion of his feature-length fiction debut, Rusalka [+see also:
film review
interview: Claudiu Mitcu
film profile
]
, which has just celebrated its world premiere in the Romanian Days section of the Transilvania International Film Festival, Mitcu speaks about his shift from documentary to fiction, the working process behind his latest effort and the importance of being on good terms with oneself when nearing the end of one’s life.

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Cineuropa: You have an extensive filmography in documentary cinema. What made you turn to fiction?
Claudiu Mitcu:
It’s not like I’ve moved away from documentaries to make fiction – I’m still making them, in parallel. But there are some stories that I come across and things that interest me that cannot be translated into documentary films and for which fiction is the only option. This is probably what led me to make both documentary and fiction movies.

I’ve actually been making fiction films for some time now, so I can't say I've encountered any unknowns in terms of production. I’ve already finished three shorts and am developing others. In the spring of 2025, I will shoot my next fiction feature, and in the meantime, I’m also working on a documentary project.

The script is driven by the characters, rather than by the story. Do they have any prototypes in real life?
Despite the importance of the location and the story, the film is character-driven, indeed. I wanted them to have strong and distinctive personalities. I wouldn’t say they are concrete prototypes from real life, but rather a mix of traits and specific characteristics of people whom I’ve interacted with.

You wrote the script together with Mihai Mincan. Did you adhere to it strictly, or did you leave the actors some room for improvisation?
Working with Mihai Mincan was a smooth process – I built the story, and he handled the dialogue part. I wanted the actors to feel comfortable – they had moments when they told me it felt much more natural to express themselves differently from how it was in the script. However, I would say they followed the script about 95% of the time. The location also influenced certain scenes, [changing them] compared to how we rehearsed them in Bucharest.

Is ageing a scary topic to explore?
I don’t think so. Perhaps it is for those who have fooled around in life up until that point.

The characters are not introduced with detailed biographies, but we learn they are well off from their conversations. Moreover, for those immersed in the local context, it is well known that the Rusalka resort in communist Bulgaria was very exclusive. Who are they, and is it important for local audiences?
One doesn't necessarily understand from their conversations what occupations the characters had, but rather what their passions are now, at this moment in life. I believe that when you reach retirement age, the things you always wanted to do, but didn't have the time or courage for, come to light. I believe that my experience in documentary film has helped me and was most evident here, as I chose personality typologies of people I came across throughout my experiences. I tried, in a discreet way, to underline some of the frustrations from our lives that get to be revealed only as we reach an older age.

The location was the whole inspiration for the film – I love how it has remained frozen in time. When I first visited it, I decided I wanted to shoot a film there. Initially, I wanted it to be an experimental documentary, but the more I thought about the location, the more I leaned towards something completely different. It does indeed look like an exclusive resort that used to be dedicated to people from the political nomenklatura of that bygone era.

The film brings to mind a variety of associations with other movies about bored, rich people – from Paolo Sorrentino's Youth [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paolo Sorrentino
film profile
]
to Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ruben Östlund
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
]
, to mention but two. Please tell us about your influences and cinematic references.
Eventually, I embraced the association with those movies, even though I hadn't initially considered it. I wanted to make a film that explores how we relate to life when we start to feel we don't have much time left. It also speaks about the desperation we feel when trying to accomplish as much as possible in a short time frame.

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