Andrei Dăscălescu on Holy Father: ”The idea of the film developed just a few hours after Paula’s pregnancy test”

22 October, 2020

Andrei, what do you remember from your childhood?

I remember spending the summer vacations with my grandparents, Constantin and Elena; it’s probably why I have a deep appreciation for them, and the source of my first documentary film. Dad was always away – he would either get home very late at night, when I was already asleep, and leave very early, or he would be gone for long periods of time. I used to see him once a week.

I do remember going to the seaside with both my parents, when I actually got lost on the beach and befriended a police officer who took me back to them. I don’t seem to have oher memories with them, they broke up when I was 6-7 years old.

So you have no other memories of your father?

Besides the one presented in the film and this one I just told you, none that I remember.

Your film follows Paula’s whole pregnancy – from day 0, when you both found out she’s pregnant.  When have you decided to make a film about it, and how much was Paula involved in this decision?

What I remember is that it all happened on the same day. After I got the test result on camera, I went through a bit of a panic and then cooled myself down, and then the idea came to us. At first, we wanted to film the reactions of our close ones, when we gave them the news – we were planning on filming Paula’s parents, when they would come to visit; so we wouldn’t miss their reaction. And since my dad is a monk on Mount Athos, I thought this would be a good opportunity to pay him my first visit there.

Paula, Andrei & Sofia. Shot on film by Răzvan Anton

So I think that the idea of a film developed just a few hours after Paula’s pregnancy test – it was totally unexpected but when we looked at each other, we knew we would go through this together, the film project was an extension to the life event. 

Paula, was it difficult to have a camera following you everywhere, during some of the most sensible moments? Were there any moments when you were not on the same page with Andrei?

At the beginning, yes. But then it started to feel natural, as Andrei was following me with the camera while doing all sorts of things or interacting with other people. I have a BA in Acting which made me constantly feel that I need to act – it was my first contact with documentary filmmaking. I still feel that the first scene is a bit fake – I was really emotional and very uncomfortable with being filmed.

Andrei: We used to joke that she, an aspiring actress, has missed her shot at fame by marrying a documentary film director – who, of course, could never help launch her career. Maybe just making a documentary late in our life about her as a famous actress.

Paula: Often enough, when I was being filmed, I wished no one was doing a film about me, but looking back now, it’s one of the most precious things that happened to both of us.

A lot of times Andrei seems to be hiding behind the camera, even in the most important moments.

And it was quite frustrating at the beginning, once the camera is on you, suddenly you’re in a totally different context, because you’re not talking solely with your partner anymore.

Paula, Andrei & Sofia. Shot on film by Răzvan Anton

In time, I realised the camera is Andrei’s standing pillar which helps him get through discussions or situations he’s not comfortable with; and I started accepting the whole package. (laughs)

You both talk in Holy Father about some deep fears, and for both of you, they’re related to your parents. Did you overcome them?

Paula: I didn’t, and I really don’t think we will ever do. They are a part of us, it’s best to accept them and have them under control.

Andrei: I started this journey presuming that getting to know my father will make me a less „faulty” father, which turned out to be quite childish. It’s also the premise of the film, but in time, it turned out to be rather naive. However, back then that was exactly what I was feeling – the need to know my father, because I was to become one soon and didn’t know what was like to really have a father. 

Tell me about the relationship with your father, beyond what we can see in the film, starting with your first phone call. Were there any other visits before you took your camera with you?

Before my first visit to Athos, we saw each other only when he was coming to Romania, but all of them were quite superficial – he would call, say he’d come and we would meet for a couple of minutes. There was never any kind of father-son connection. When I decided to get in the car to go visit him, my desire was to confront him and give him hell for leaving us. It felt like I was on a mission; until I got there and realised I need to spend some time with him, get to know and observe him. It was like dancing ballet on a wire rod – I even let him embrace the director’s role from time to time, in the hopes I would get what I needed, the more personal moments, which were essential for my film. On the first visit, everything seemed to be on the limit. Sadly, we didn’t have that many interactions, besides the ones caught on camera. My second visit, however, was quite different. I have no idea what happened between these two moments – if the first visit got him thinking about stuff, or if he seeked counsel from his Confessor, but on the second visit, he was more open with me. And I saw it as a second chance at building memories together, something we should have done when I was a child.

You managed to bring on screen such a real and humane character – flawed but with qualities as well, a man who may not say much, but whose body language speaks for himself. 

I haven’t told him from the beginning that I’m making a film about him, I didn’t want to scare him away. I eased him into it, by telling him that I want to make a film about what it means to be a father, because I was about to become one – and he received it quite well. There were moments when he was concerned about some scenes, that they wouldn’t respect the monkish rules, but in the end he understood that it’s a documentary, that no one forced him to say or do anything, that he needs to undertake what he said or did on camera.

But during editing, I was the one preoccupied with how I made him look, but none of the people I asked for feedback seemed to think of him as a negative character, everyone was fond of him, taking him as a human being with both good and bad. And I know I didn’t do wrong by him with this film, I just hope he’ll agree when he sees it. And I would love for him to watch it in a cinema hall, so he could feel the public’s warmth and understand my work better.

Do you think he has learned anything from this process?

I think we both fixed something from the past, by going through this process. On both of my visits to Mount Athos, we spent more time together than ever before. I had the chance to discover a small part of what it means to have a father, and he had a second chance at having a son.

I could see a change of attitude in his behaviour, throughout the film. Even a slight feeling of regret combined with peace, at the end.

Thank God for this evolution! The first time I visited him, after he left in the middle of our discussion, I just sat there and cried. The next morning, when I was to return home, I felt like I was leaving with this huge failure, with this negative experience on my shoulders, because I couldn’t get him to open at all, I couldn’t find out anything. I was quite devastated, but I was lucky enough to have this film project in mind, which kept me going, kept me focused. And helped keep my emotions under control.

I believe that if there hadn’t been the second visit, I would have been drowning in my frustrations, the ending would have been catastrophic, if I were also to take into account the premise which I started from.

Have your parents seen the film, Paula?

My dad, yes. At a private screening organised by Andrei for feedback. 

And what was his reaction?

We didn’t really talk about it. My father is a bit frustrated that he “doesn’t understand very well the greatness of the cinematic act”. He doesn’t get how this is a documentary film where we filmed ourselves, but then again I’m an actress … And I think he’s afraid to say something that might upset us. We did have an emotional moment during the screening – I’m talking about the part in the film where I give my mother the news, and her reaction is quite… different. He took my hand and held it tight in his hand as the shots with me and my mother rolled on the screen, and asked me all teary-eyed if I was okay.

Paula – shot on film by Răzvan Anton

You are the mother of a little girl, who is about three years old. One day, Sofia will watch your film. Have you ever thought about that moment?

Not really. We were actually joking that she might sue us for filming her without her consent.

Andrei: If we have another child, we need to make another film, so that there’s no reason for jealousy between them.

Paula: I think once she’ll watch, this film, she’ll understand us better. Nobody knows what it’s like to be a parent, we’ll always make mistakes, and I think this film is a great way to explain to her, maybe even better than verbally, that if we do wrong by her, it could also be because our own parents did wrong by us at some point. That’s how I see it.

It’s a very challenging year for the worldwide cinema industry and film distribution. You have an awesome film that deserves to be seen, and yet now it seems harder than ever to reach the public.

I’ve been quite depressed since I realized  the pandemic will not be over so soon. During the summer we were hoping to get to Sarajevo and have a great premiere; I was hoping that the pandemic will be long behind us. It’s not easy to put your feelings and your personal life on  screen. I always have the audience in mind when working on a film, and I look forward to meeting and facing them. The fact that this meeting no longer takes place is extremely frustrating and painful for me. I guess I just have to come to terms with the idea that it will be a film with less viewers, most of whom will watch it online. But I hope that those who do get to watch the film will love it, remember it, maybe even be motivated to call and meet their parents or spend more time with their family. I hope that the film will inspire them in one way or another.

Holy Father can be watched this October at Astra Film Festival online and Les Films de Cannes a Bucarest online.

Film producer and founder of ADFR, she dreamed since she was little of having a magazine one day. Alongside her job as editor-in-chief, she writes the interview of the month. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.


Director/ Screenwriter