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TRANSILVANIA 2024

Gabi Virginia Şarga and Cătălin Rotaru • Directors of Where Elephants Go

“We wanted to make viewers face up to their own stories and to question the meaning and reality of their own fiction”

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- We talked with the directorial duo behind the story born from depression but showing a friendlier Bucharest

Gabi Virginia Şarga and Cătălin Rotaru • Directors of Where Elephants Go

After their very first (and only) short film, 4:15 P.M. The End of the World, which was selected for Cannes, and their debut feature, Thou Shalt Not Kill [+see also:
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, which delved deep into a medical scandal which rocked Romania in the 2010s, Romanian directors Gabi Virginia Şarga and Cătălin Rotaru are making a style U-turn with their sophomore feature, Where Elephants Go [+see also:
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, which just scooped a Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury at the Transilvania International Film Festival. This is what the directors had to say about how their story was born out of depression and how important it was for them to show a friendlier side of Bucharest in their feature.

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Cineuropa: How did this film come to be? Is it based on reality in any way?
Gabi Virginia Şarga: The characters are based on real-life. Marcel is Cătălin and I am Leni. Not one hundred percent, but I put the friendship between the two of us into the movie. At one point, Cătălin told me he wanted to make a movie about a guy who doesn't want to do anything, except read. I asked him if he wanted to make a movie about himself. He said no, and I teased him, as Leni would. Leni's age, nine, is a consequence of how I felt then. I was depressed and my therapist told me that, emotionally, I was 12 and that I was suffering from Peter Pan syndrome. This really annoyed me: I was 44 after all. I went home, thought about it, came back and told him he was wrong. I was actually 9. He told me to write about it. I did so over 11 days and, after much discussion over free will and how life might be pre-determined to a large degree, I decided to let the characters do whatever they wanted. It was the summer of 2019. Now it's 2024, the film is out and Cătălin only quarter-heartedly admits that he's Marcel. And I think depression is the best thing to have happened to me thus far.

All three main actors are making their feature film debut. Was this intentional or mere coincidence?
GVS: We held castings and they were the absolute best people for the roles. All that matters to us is what an actor conveys. We’re looking for actors with a lot of personality and "crazy" inner feelings, because when you point the camera at them, it brings everything out. Take the girl who plays Leni. Carina [Lăpuşneanu] came to the casting and just smiled. We talked, me a little and Cătălin a little bit more. She’s actually so shy in real life and has nothing in common with her character. The way she was looking at us as we were blathering on won us over. She was the best choice.

Do you divide tasks when you’re making a movie?
Cătălin Rotaru: We don't, actually. We do everything together, because we like it all and because we complement each other well. It’s just in the casting process that we have different approaches. I work a lot with all the actors, as I need time to decide who I want to work with.

GVS: And I choose my actors from the instant they walk into the room. I won't say anything else because I want to keep making movies.

In Romanian films, we’re more used to a Bucharest that’s aggressive, dirty, noisy and chaotic. In Elephants, the city looks different...
GVS: We love Bucharest. We wanted to show it the way we see it, full of life and colour. We live right in the area where we shot, and we wanted to showcase the people of Bucharest and their energy. We knew from the writing stage that we were going to place the camera in the middle of the street and stick to everything that we’d rehearsed with the actors. We were scared it might not work, but it actually did. And the lines are the exact same lines from the script, nothing was improvised. What we didn't like was when the movie came out and foreigners asked us what country we’d shot it in…

In one of the scenes, it’s implied that the protagonists run away from the "audience", who are invading their reality. Why this decision?
CR: All three characters are trying to find a way out, to strike new, better deals in their stories. Marcel and Leni run away from the camera; that is, they try to escape from the story. But all these solutions that they hope will save them are obviously doomed to fail. There is no escape, we have to confront what’s in front of us. We wanted to convey this negotiation with fiction to the audience. We wanted to make viewers face up to their own stories and to question the meaning and reality of their own fiction.

The film is part of the Smart 7 Festival Network selection; what do you think about this endeavour?
GVS: Smart 7 is a competition that Transilvania and six other major festivals have been organising for two years. Last year, Mammalia [+see also:
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was in the selection, and it made us want to be in there too, and now our wish has come true. It's a great opportunity to do a kind of "tour" around Europe and have our film seen in several countries. It’s also a competition with very good and powerful films, which all have a brave approach. We hope this competition will last for many years to come, because it opens a door for our films. We thank Transilvania and [artistic director] Mihai Chirilov for their support.

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