• Crina Semciuc: ”I still hope to find that one role that makes me feel fully satisfied”
    I know Crina for a long time – since I was a teenager watching the TV series One step further, and I always wanted to get to know her better. This interview has finally happened last week, after years of considering it. 

    The Crina I imagined is not really far from the real one. However, the real one is more... real. She’s at a point in her life where she knows what she wants and feels ready to give it all for a character, whether it’s film or theatre. She’s strong, more mature than a few years ago and constantly evolving. We decided to have a talk about all of her movie characters so prepare yourself for a long read.

    Crina, I know theatre appeared in your life when you were little, due to your mother – also an actress, in Galati. When have you realized the power of theatre?

    Very late. After graduation, when I started acting on stage. During my university years I had a lot of shootings which helped me discover and learn film in a very practical way, from really talented and professional filmmakers, but it also affected my relationship with my colleagues and professors from school – and I think they were right, they were working really hard and all I did was come at the end of a semester with a different dynamic and energy and squeeze in.  I think the moment I really understood the power of theatre was when I met and worked with Horatiu Malaele at The Comedy Theatre; while in university I was criticized for my fears and my way of being, Horatiu taught me to accept them.

    Laura, from Website Story (dir. Dan Chisu) was your first main role in a feature film. How old were you back then?

    23, I had just graduated from UNATC (The National University of Theatre and Film).

    Did you have anything in common with her?

    Nothing. It was a challenge from the very moment I step foot at the casting call – Dan told me it’s a challenge even for him, an experiment, which I haven’t quite understood at that moment. When we started shooting I realized what he meant by that. It was a tough film to make, neither of us had experience in filmmaking, I would probably change a lot now at that character. What I really enjoyed was the freedom I had, a freedom I never found again on any film set. Too bad I didn’t know what to do with it back then, how to use it, to control it.

    How did you get to know Laura?

    Through the talks I had with Dan. He came to me with a sketch of Laura and a synopsis and we started building from there in the two weeks we had for rehearsals. I felt the need to bring her closer to me, to make her more human, until I realize it’s just a way of bringing my fears into a courageous and powerful character. It took us a while until we got what we wanted.

    Crina Semciuc (still from Website Story)

    Your next two films were Rocker and Happy Funerals, where you had supporting roles. What have you taken from these experiences?

    During the shooting for Rocker I had an emotional blockage; it happened one day when I wasn’t supposed to film, so I woke up late, relaxed, even called my family – which I didn’t do until that moment because my character had no family and was trying to find one, I was the connection between a father and a son, between past and present. So in that free day I had, they called me around lunchtime to tell me I have to shoot in a few hours.

    When I got on set and the camera started rolling, I couldn’t synchronize my body with what I was saying and I started panicking, feeling really unsatisfied with myself. And when the movement was right, I couldn’t get the text straight. Everyone was really thoughtful and patient with me which didn’t help, and when Marian (n. Marian Crisan, director of Rocker) asked for a break for me I felt even worse. That day was an emotional rollercoaster and I managed to get through only with Marian’s help who coordinated me without putting any pressure. At the end of the day, I realised the only one who had a problem with me was myself, but even so, I kept that moment in my head for a long time – even at our premiere, I was still thinking about it. After many years I realized that moment was actually a really important one for my career as an actress.

    Happy Funerals was much more relaxed and joyful. My only panic was disappointing Horatiu, which I already knew for three years.

    Even though the public knows you from both screen and stage, you seem to be more present on stage. Is that a personal choice?

    When I graduated I was already famous for my role in the TV series One step further and I really wanted to act on stage but I wasn’t accepted there, because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t have the needed experience . I decided to take a 4-year break from anything film-related and started to knock on theatre doors. Even though I won the UNITER prize for „Best Actress” a while ago, it wasn’t easy at all. It was actually really difficult to thrust away from that image I created for myself during the shooting for the TV series – an image which was created out of necessity, so I could stay in Bucharest after graduation. So yes, at the beginning it was a personal choice but later on, it all came natural.

    What was that moment in your career when everything started to take shape? 

    About two years ago I realized that I never really knew how to enjoy the things that I had experienced, from a professional point of view. I didn’t trust myself, so any project that I was involved with was, by proxy, not one that would satisfy me and so I never thought that I had a good start to my career.

    As soon as I started acting in theatre productions I achieved a sort of balance. It was a point that helped me evolve, and to consider myself equal to those whom I share the stage with. The opportunity of meeting Horațiu Mălăele and, afterwards, Radu Afrim, also helped tremendously.

    In Selfie and Selfie69 you perform the role of Yasmin, one of the three protagonists – it’s a character whom I know you have little to nothing in common, yet you command her role as if you were the same. Was it the kind of character which is intensely rehearsed?

    Yes. There is an entire team behind this character, I had an acting coach from the United States and I had Cristina Iacob, who was permanently there. It was the kind of project that made me feel like I had surpassed myself, I was even rehearsing outside of the allotted rehearsal time; I remember my husband and friends started complaining that I had started using vulgar language in my spare time - and it was a way for me to become credible, since my character spoke dirty. I worked on every single aspect of the character, including its posture and clothing - she didn't have a single part of me.

    Flavia Hojda, Crina Semciuc, Olimpia Melinte (still from Selfie69)

    What did you learn from Yasmin?

    Once spoken and embraced, the truth solves everything, as hard as it may be.

    I understand that film makes you more nervous than theatre does. How come?

    At first, I was afraid of the stage and was more confident with whom I was onscreen, but in time I realized that my biggest enemies were my fears and myself.

    Now, at age 34, I’ve come to realize that no single project is alike, so it’s normal for me to experience nervousness, be it film or theatre: you work with a different team, energy, context – you take it all from the top every single time. Although in the case of shootings, it might seem easier because you can have countless takes, it’s, in fact, more stressful. I think I’m becoming aware of the power of cinema – it’s a product that remains, and so, once it’s done, there’s nothing you can change about it anymore. In theatre, if, say, one day you’re off, you have the chance to make a better show the next. Rehearsals are also different – they last longer in theatre, so you have the time to adjust your inner mechanisms, things become increasingly organic in time. While, in the case of shootings, everything is happening so fast that you usually end up „revving your engine” once you end up in front of the camera.

    For your role in The Story of a Summer Lover, did you go through an auditioning process or was it the kind of role where the director had you in mind from the very beginning?

    I had five auditions at five different stages. When I first read the script I liked it very much, then I received the second version (the one that was the basis of the film), soon after I’ve given birth. It was a moment when I saw myself as very mature in my head, and I lived under the impression that I would only play ladies from that point onward, so I read through the script without expecting to end up playing one of the characters in the story. I was surprised when they called me for the casting and so I was very nervous at the audition since it was my first chance to work with my friends, and I was afraid that I would disappoint them.

    Alexandru Papadopol & Crina Semciuc (still, Povestea unui pierde-vara)

    Did you feel the same kind of pressure during the shooting?

    Yes. I remember that the sound engineer came to me one day and changed my body mic from one side of my body to the other, because it seemed that my heart was beating so hard it was being caught on, and Ana (n. Draghici – the DOP) told me that one of my facial muscles was twitching, even though I didn’t even have a line in that scene. But, after the first day of shooting, I managed to relax.

    I noticed that the majority of your roles have been of schoolgirls or students, young girls who are searching for themselves and testing their limits. Does this bother you? Would you also like to try something else?

    It doesn’t bother me, it makes me happy. I had a phase in which I felt that I should change my spectrum, but that was a mistake. None of my roles are alike and I’ll always know how to search for new things in my characters so that they will be authentic. I’m still in a phase of my life where my physique helps me play the roles of teenagers, so I want to be the best teenager the industry has ever seen.

    And since we’re talking about the characters I’ve performed, I don’t think that any single one of them resembles Crina: I always use my hair as a means to detach myself, so I either have a shaved head, or a short cut, or long blond hair.

    You performed a secondary role in an international production that was helmed by an actor-debutante director, a film that ended up competing at Berlin. Tell me about your experience on an international set. 

    I had the wonderful chance to work with a team of incredibly good and professional people; I never heard anyone say that something is impossible. The day I signed a contract with them was an important one – I had only one day of shooting and it was scheduled a long time in advance. As it happened, later I found out that a performance of a play that I was in was scheduled at the Festival of National Theatre on the same day, so I had to rush to Bucharest in the evening. We shot until 6am and then I ran to get on the plane, and I arrived back in Romania just in time to get on the stage – thank God for the timezone delay! The producers had set aside that day just to shoot the scenes in which I was involved, and I never heard them say that something cannot be done, nor did I ever notice them change their attitude towards me. It was the first time that I worked so easily that it felt unreal – starting with the auditioning, the rehearsals and the meeting in Berlin.

    On a personal level, how is your profession helpful to you? 

    It helped me in the process of knowing myself better, of discovering my fears and accepting them. It also helps me understand different psychological profiles and types of people, which I would have otherwise not had the chance to comprehend, which I would have probably criticized with much ease.

    Looking back at all of your performances in films, how do they make you feel, and what is it that you would wish for in the future?

    I still hope to find that one role that makes me feel fully satisfied, which allows me to no comments after I watch the film. And I hope that my close ones will be proud – Ducu, the kids, my parents. I feel ready for this.

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  • Every Man for Himself | Arrest – Film review
    Far from being an atypical wager if the history of world cinema is taken into consideration, the crux of Andrei Cohn’s directorial intentions in Arrest lies in a formula that’s been used far too little in the films of the Romanian New Wave.

    He employs a logistical minimalism, which implies purging the film of secondary and episodical characters, that goes hand-in-hand with restricting the space in which the narrative plays out. Although this type of formula sounds ideal for cinematographic industries that are rather precarious, it does call to mind some topical images from the areal of Hollywood films – of a Robert Redford stranded in the middle of the ocean (in J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost), of a Colin Farrel stuck in a phone booth (in Larry Cohen’s eponymous effort), or of a Jakob Cedergren isolated in a police office room (in Gustav Möller’s non-Hollywood Den skyldige / The Guilty). And, recently, in Romanian Cinema, of an Alex Calin secluded in an apartment in Bucharest, in Nicolae Constantin Tanase’s Cap si pajura / Head and tails.

    Cohn’s approach is certainly an upgrade in comparison to Tanase’s attempt, if regarded from the vantage point of directorial meticulousness. Set in the days of the Romanian Socialist Republic, sometime in the mid-eighties, Arrest maps out the final days in the life of Dinu (Alexandru Papadopol), an architect who comes under suspicion for consuming subversive cultural products (such as Xeroxed banned books, Radio Free Europe transmissions, illicit VHS tapes) and is tortured to death by Vali (Iulian Postelnicu), a first-time torturer.

    The film’s few initial sequences that don’t take place in a police prison cell quickly map the playing field onto which the drama unfolds. Vali’s seen attempting to reduce his own prison term with the prison authorities, which was handed down after he accidentally killed an elderly woman during an attempted robbery. The solution is handily offered by the warden – the petty criminal shall become a torturer and be rewarded with a smaller sentence. The opening scenes offer the only opportunity to see Vali in the same position that Dinu is seen throughout the film – sweaty and submissive, filled with anxiety, an unmoving target of a toxic masculinity that’s bent on ridicule and conflict. Cohn’s thesis is blunt – the communist state stands against its own citizens, prompting an every-man-for-himself response, albeit not without compromise. Vali’s bailout is represented by Dinu, who is also in the position of compromising himself in order to escape. The militiamen are counting on the architect to croak, dragging even more people after himself into the fray of terror.

    Torturer-Vali appears as anything but common detainee-Vali: a seeming ruler of the prison cell and his victim, and undeterred by the officious tone that official militiamen were expected to adopt, he plainly informs the architect of his scheduled beatings. Alone, sharing a room with his oppressor, Dinu has no escape routes, other than returning to the state’s underwear-clad watchdog. And, soon enough, that’s what he does, letting himself swayed by Vali’s mind games. A kick in the stomach here, a compliment there. A beating so vicious that leaves him unconscious on one side, on the other, a hand that’s feeding him. Contrary to what one might expect, the prison cell doesn’t add to the narrative’s suffocating atmosphere, as Cohn and DOP Andrei Butică’s interplay with various shooting angles makes for one of the film’s strong points: its usage of spatiality. The constantly shifting point of view doesn’t, however, make the experience of incarceration any easier on the protagonists, as the space remains unmoving to the eyes of the prisoners. The angle interplay does however impose a more alert edit, at a speed that still doesn’t keep the pace of Hollywood-editing, which is an edulcoration of the viewing experience. Two hours of regarding a man that suffers physical and psychological degradation sounds like a radical challenge, especially when guilt is ascertained by a set of laws that no longer exist and, moreover, that have come under fire for the last three decades.

    Iulian Postelnicu si Alexandru Papadopol

    It is not the case of Arrest, even though Cohn is eager to add his vehement voice to the choir of anti-communist contesters. The lion’s share of the film’s comedic situations comes from the difference between the victim, an architect hailing from the comfort of the middle class, and the torturer, a thief that was born and raised in the lower class, and is still lingering there. At their funniest, these situations face off Dinu’s petit bourgeois uptightness and pleasantries with Vali’s brutish vulgarity. After he’s pummeled down, Dinu responds with formal pronouns, his small victories lying in his intellectualist jabs. After all, what’s a broken rib compared to the knowledge of whom Tristan Tzara was? Arrest tries to thrash the Ceaușescu regime without a second thought, and it’s quite possible that it manages to pull the feat off even better than it had expected to – to accuse the communist eighties of crimes against humanities isn’t unheard of (anymore), and negationists are hard to come across amongst lucid political commentators, as radical as they may be. But to clash two individuals hailing from different social classes and to set that clash smack in the middle of a communist dictatorship, based on an intention to level out said differences, while making sure that the two are separated by what is virtually a bottomless chasm, is an endeavor that is as tendentious as it is efficient. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Dinu’s character isn’t understriked by rough strokes, a bothersome representation that certainly pays no honours to any of the era’s intellectuals, dissident or not.

    There’s another attempt of Cohn’s at play, this time unsuccessfully, meaning the narrative fragmentation of the prison torture experience – same taste, smaller portion. The spectators are spared of explicit violence, as temporal ellipses and other such subterfuges mask it – knock-outs are doled behind tables or beds, never in plain view. Truth be told, in the absence of a visible process of punishment which turns the audience into witnesses, the reflectors turn to shine the figure of Postelnicu, who delivers a tour de force of verbal aggression. But a couple of harsh words have never killed anyone, at least not on their own.

    Still, a rollercoaster of blindsided pain wouldn’t have served Cohn’s mission well. Years and years of exposure to audiovisual representations of aggression, amounting to a bombardment across all channels, have all but desensitized the audience to a large gamut of violence, as using the empathy elicited by bruises and injuries has become a cheap device to hook your spectators. Isn’t all the make-up and editing just ephemeral artifacts to a spectator that is neutral, meaning one that lacks fully-formed opinions?

    I don’t mean to say that cinema can’t pulverize gigantic concepts such as violence and death into little particles – it’s one of its main functions after all, both in fiction and documentary. But is there any use of Cohn’s film in this form, for those who mean to have an impression of, or, at least, to approach the experiences behind real-life criminal cases? Isn’t Cristi Puiu’s approach in Moartea domnului Lăzărescu / The Death of Mr. Lazarescu more honest and efficient, as the main aggravating circumstance to the ailing protagonist’s condition was time itself or, more specifically, its passage, as the audience could take in samples of this static time simultaneously with the dying pensioner? Or, with even more honestly in regards to its stated mission, isn’t Stan Brakhage’s experimental documentary approach in The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes preferable, wherein short, harrowingly close-up shots of autopsy procedures performed on several bodies are compiled into a half-hour-long montage sequence, which is more than enough time for the audience to get used to (i.e. objectify) the lifeless bodies that are being carried back and forth? The best methods always arrive from artists that prove to have a profound understanding of the cinematic medium and can use its specifics to maximise the audience’s experience. And in the case of Cohn, although he does put his signature on a solid piece of directing, is still from fat from being a grand artist.

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