Andrei Rautu: “As an artist, I think it’s essential to do your best not to fall apart”
Selected at Transilvania IFF and Anonimul Film Festival, “Bucharest Seen from Above” is one of the best Romanian short films of the year. Starring Stefan Iancu, Elvira Deatcu and Marina Voica, the film talks about an important day in a family’s life, and is directed and written by Andrei Rautu, one of the promising voices of a new generation of young filmmakers.
A graduate of UNATC, after studying international relations at SNSPA, Andrei is the author of about ten short films, both fiction and documentary, present in numerous festivals. He was also Corneliu Porumboiu’s assistant on “La Gomera”.
We talked about his interest and passion for cinema, about his journey so far and his way of working, about what attracts him to making films and how he feels as a director at the beginning of his career in Romanian cinema.
Born on March 19, 1986 in Bucharest, Andrei Rautu studied at the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” Theoretical High School, in the Nature Sciences class.
It was only in high school that he began to watch more movies, since as a child he mostly watched the things his generation could find easier on TV. “When I was a kid, I used to watch shows like Married with Children or family movies like Lassie or All Dogs Go to Heaven, which I really liked, got me all teared up. I was also watching movies in my room at night, when the Cartoon Network program would end and TNT would start instead. I used to watch all kinds of melodramas”, Andrei Rautu remembers.
“Then, I think in seventh grade, I caught Basic Instinct on TV, without my parents knowing. As a child, I felt the erotic tension quite strongly. I even checked the house afterwards, to make sure everything was okay”, he recalls amused.
In high school he discovered movies like Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream. “I played with graffiti a bit, although I was never really good at drawing. But I liked the underground world. Then I discovered electronic music and went on to be a DJ. I was watching movies with parties, drugs. Funny thing is that I haven’t made any such film so far, although I am interested in this area, I write about stuff like that. But I still need to make this step, make a film that comes from my darker side. So far, I only made nice, “decent” films, about family relationships”, says the filmmaker with a smile.
“Instead, I was interested in theater. I would have loved to be an actor. At one point, our high school created a theater group and they organized a casting for the students, to discover the talents. I didn’t get in. I was so frustrated. After that, I went to see their play and I started crying. I wanted to be part of it, too. I would empathize a lot with the actors. There was this increasing desire in me to pursue theater, acting. At one point, I even went to Podul, the theater club at the Student Culture House, and caught Catalin Naum, but just for a bit. One time I was given a text by Marin Sorescu. I still know the verses. But I continued going to see their shows and felt that I wanted to be part of this world”, adds Andrei Rautu.
He thought about applying to UNATC, even made a research on the admission, but eventually went to International Relations at SNSPA, where he studied between 2005 and 2008: “I think I was quite dependent on others, my parents, my family. I didn’t have any encouragement, or a mentor to guide me towards acting, and I let myself be carried away, be influenced by the contexts I was living in.”
His first job during college was to work in a program on sexual education for the youth. At the same time, he continued his passion as a DJ: “When I was playing music I could visualize the sounds. I would imagine a whole story on the rhythm of a song. I was taking photos and making short videos, and then I was trying to edit them on music.”
Later, he also did a master’s degree in Audiovisual Communication at SNSPA, and in parallel he worked as a journalist for Forbes magazine. “I worked on the Top 500 billionaires and used to meet with business people. We would talk about the turnover, about how much they invested in a year, about the profit they made in different social and economic contexts, and the solutions they found to keep their business going. But we would also talk about their lifestyle, yachts, expensive watches, their hobbies, what kind of toothpaste they used or what kind of wine they drank”, he recalls.
“At one point, when I was a journalist, I thought of being a copywriter in an advertising agency. Somehow I was interested in storytelling and in combining different mediums – music, image. I started on this inner quest. I put the acting part aside. I discovered I liked to write”, says the director.
He hadn’t given up on the idea of applying to UNATC, so from time to time he would check the bibliographies they would ask for the admission to directing or screenwriting. During that period, he came across the collection Fellini on Fellini and the book Catching the Big Fish, by David Lynch, both published in Romanian in 2017 by Humanitas Publishing House, at the initiative of film critic Alex Leo Serban. And he started watching their movies, too. It was a turning point – the revelation that he would like to be a director.
He also started looking for film studies abroad. In late 2011 and early 2012, he attended a 3-month filmmaking course in Los Angeles organized by the New York Film Academy: “I went through all the departments and learned a little bit of each and they way they work together when making a movie. Practical exercises were their main approach. That’s where I really fell for cinema. I returned home determined to make a short film.”
“I started searching inside, to see what story I could tell and bring on the screen. I also went to a screenwriting course in Bucharest, organized by the Control N Association, held by Ana Agopian, and it helped me a lot. I had become very passionate, I was writing a lot at home. I was very confident about this path I chose, and in my own quest”, confesses Andrei Rautu.
His first short film, Ela, Panda and Madam, was made in 2012 and starred Tatiana Iekel, Elena Voineag and Cristian Popa. An emotional story about the relationship between a young corporate woman and her grandmother. He wrote the screenplay together with Ana-Carola Buzatov, whom he had met through producer Daniel Mitulescu, but the subject was based on his relationship with his own grandmother. The film was selected in the Romanian short film competition at TIFF in 2013, and was also present in other local and international festivals.
“I learned a lot from DoP Tudor Mircea. I saw how he worked on cinematography. We also had good actors. Although it was my first film, I wasn’t very tense about it. I was very keen on making it. Obviously I was nervous on the first day of shooting and the night before, when I couldn’t believe it was really happening – I was really going to direct! Eugen Kelemen helped me a lot with the editing. I learned a lot from him, too”, Andrei Rautu details.
“I wanted to keep making films, so I decided to apply to UNATC. I had started to meet other people in the film industry and many told me that I should go to UNATC. Now that I also made a film, there was no doubt that my family would back me up on this decision”, he adds.
He studied directing between 2013 and 2016: “I had a lot of practice in these three years, I experimented with the films I made. I shot a few things on 16 mm and 35 mm. I’m very grateful that I did UNATC. I learned a lot from practice, from working with the other colleagues and with the other departments. I liked the discussions we had in pre-production and then all the energy during shootings. I saw how everything works on a professional level. I also had some great professors. I even had classes that were truly eye-openers and made me eager to look further.”
In the second year of college, he went with Erasmus to an internship in Lisbon, where he made a short documentary, Back to the Roots, about a young man living by himself in a wooden house on the beach, by the ocean. The film was selected at the Astra Festival and nominated for the Gopo Awards in 2016. After returning to Romania, he went to China for a few weeks, through another program, along with several other colleagues. He made a short documentary there as well, Chasing Dao. In his third year of college, he returned to Lisbon, once again with Erasmus: “I really liked the city. And the second time I was there I filmed some sort of diary and tried to get to the house where Mircea Eliade lived, in Cascais. It’s in a more experimental area, a documentary with diary elements. I’m still in editing with it.”
“I really like experiencing different cultures, places and languages. I feel much more creative when I’m in a new environment. Not unstable, because I have to make a living. But it works for me”, he says.
His interest in documentary transpired once again, when he made the short film See you soon within the Aristoteles Workshop in 2018.
“When it comes to documentary film, I like how you discover things through the people you meet and their stories. And the spontaneity. Maybe you start with one thing in your mind and then discover something else along the way. You find solutions on the spot. The team is smaller. There’s more freedom in your approach. Somehow, it’s more energetic and more playful”, says Andrei Rautu.
After finishing UNATC, and in parallel with his own projects, he worked on other films as well, doing various things. Extremely important was the experience as Corneliu Porumboiu’s assistant on La Gomera (2019).
“I felt privileged working on this film. I read the script and I really liked that it felt more like a genre film, a noir film. He gave me tasks, he asked me to do research on other noir or western films. I would suggest sequences from different films and then edit them at home, for documentation. To see if we could find any elements that would work for his film”, says the young filmmaker.
He even went on the set and was impressed with their setup: “When I got there on the first day of shooting and saw how many cars and how many people were gathered around, it was like being on Truffaut’s La nuit américaine. The whole experience made me want to make such a film someday.”
About Corneliu Porumboiu he says that he’s “very disciplined” and “very focused” on what he does: “But at the same time there’s a calm in his behavior. I had the chance to see how he approaches things and builds his cinema. And he was open, too. I even talked to him about my problems, my dilemmas on filmmaking, a possible career. And he was always joking around saying, «Go to America».”
His first film after graduating from UNATC was Perseids (2017), a fiction short film about an important moment in the life of a couple played by Olimpia Melinte and Ali Deac. A more stylized film, which came out of the realistic area: “I had gone through a breakup and I was looking for a way to romanticize this context and somehow get closer to an aesthetic that would portray melancholy.” He once again wrote the screenplay together with Ana-Carola Buzatov.
Regarding his writing style, he says he doesn’t have a system: “I start by searching inside until I find something. Maybe I can’t even put my finger on it, but I feel that there is a feeling that troubles me, so it’s like therapy really. I’m trying to release this thing, to make sense of it. This is the process when I’m looking for an auteur cinema approach.”
“But there are also times when I think more about the form, and how I could build a story that works well in that form, or sometimes I try to explore the cinematic language more, various typologies of characters. Before, there were times when I would start from a setting, from a location, and then build around it. Now I think I’ve come to look for an essential matter, a universal theme. I even tried my hand at adaptation, to start from something I read in literature and take elements from there to build my own universe”, on his way of working.
For his latest film, Bucharest Seen from Above (2020), starring Marina Voica, Stefan Iancu and Elvira Deatcu, he also started from something extremely personal, but this time he wrote the screenplay himself.
“My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and there were two or three years which were quite hard for us. I thought she was doing fine still, but my mother got scared. So the idea of putting her in a nursing home came up. I wasn’t okay with this decision. I knew how much she cared about her own home, and it seemed cruel to take an old person from their space and somehow force them to another place. These two-three years were an awful experience, visiting her and seeing her get worse with each passing day. We even moved her from one home to another. I think I accumulated a lot of frustration, and then Iooked for a way to release it”, confesses Andrei Rautu.
“During that period, I used to document my grandmother. I would film her or record our discussions. And I would analyze her a lot. After she got into a really bad state, we decided to take her back home and she stayed with my mother. So the story ends at some point in the film, but in reality it goes on. In the film, I was more interested in capturing that frustration one has when put in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be an optimal solution. Actually, taking care of her would have been the most important thing to her, and I tried to explore that. Love and affection, these are the best therapy, not putting her in a home, filling her with drugs, and thus annihilating her spirit”, he states.
He went on casting Marina Voica in the role of the grandmother, after seeing her audition for La Gomera: “I really liked her fragility. My grandmother was still alive at the time. She had a similar appearance – small, feeble, but with inner strength. I think I’ve been thinking about her ever since. I hadn’t written the script yet, but I was going through a lot, and I told myself that when I make the film, she’ll be the one to play my grandmother.”
“I would go visit her in Breaza, because that’s where she lives. At first we talked a lot about the character. I noticed that Mrs. Marina Voica would always wear and show the persona created over the years. I wanted at all costs to remove this mask and work not with the star, but with the real Marina Voica. And with all her melancholy, because she has some sort of melancholy in her being. Then I would come to rehearse on the text with her. I think that her character is very strong”, says Andrei Rautu.
About his way of working with the actors, he says that it’s constantly changing: “I’m in a continuous search. I don’t think I got to have a style of my own. And it also depends on the projects. Sometimes I look for something that fits the form, sometimes I look for something more spiritual – a gaze, an authentic gesture that can only come from the real person, not the character. There’s a kind of therapy there, too. But, in general, I avoid getting too much into the character’s psychology. Sometimes, starting from the movement, getting to the interior from the outside, and not giving a lot of information to the actor is an approach that I prefer. And when we work together, I rather not explain to them what I’m looking for or give them any clues as to the outcome. I rather keep on giving all sorts of actions for them to do, and the rest to reveal itself.”
“I always try to get an authentic expression from the actor. That’s what I’m interested in. Not to get the feeling that they’re playing a character. I try different ways with the actors at rehearsals. I want to make sure that the text flows and then, when we’re shooting, to give them some freedom in their act”, explains Andrei Rautu.
In terms of style, he says that aesthetics plays an important part. “When I established the theme of the story and figured out its mood, I turn to the visual area. But I don’t know if I have a certain way of working on this part. For example, I read poetry from time to time. I’m always looking for something that will give me the color, the shape, the atmosphere. Then I have a lot of discussions with the DoP. We meet, we talk about other films, we look for references. We talk about what our film should look like. First of all, we need to answer the following questions: «Why do we think of it this way? What determined us to reach this aesthetic?» It shouldn’t be just for the eye-catching effect. It needs to make sense in relation to the theme”, the director details.
“With Ela, Panda and Madam, I decided from the beginning that I want it to be in the live cinema area. To watch what happens, as if I were making a documentary about the granddaughter’s relationship with her grandmother. For Bucharest Seen from Above, we talked about the aesthetics and we came to the conclusion that the old woman’s character is actually heading towards death. And we tried to show that by working with the lighting – we thought that there needs to be more and more light, that light invades the surroundings. Our interior shots may look more stylized, while the car scenes look more natural, more spontaneous. When shooting the interior of the car we tried, for example, to isolate each one and see them only separately. And to see them together only from the outside. With Perseids, on the other hand, there was clearly an emphasis on the aesthetics. I got inspiration from the German Romanticism – Caspar David Friedrich. I would analyze his paintings”, says Andrei Rautu.
At this point in his life and career, he focuses on cinematic language and “the possibilities of being creative with the way you decide to tell a story”: “If you want, it’s like cubism. You have an action or a situation, but you can look at it from a lot of angles, and from each angle it might look different.”
“Aside from that, perhaps it’s my mood of late that makes me think of the absurd, and I would like to make something in this area. About that point in your life when you’re experiencing some very strong inner contradictions and you lose sight of the right path to follow. I believe that in your effort to get back to your inner self you also find yourself wandering around without any clear directions, because you cannot ignore what’s happening on the outside. At that point, you’re somewhere in between, you go back and forth. If you’re not sure about what you are looking for inside you, then the outside throws you even more into chaos, and so, you might have a contradictory and inconsistent behavior. So I’m interested in exploring this context in a film, with characters who might come with a high dose of absurdity”, explains the filmmaker.
When asked if he’s interested in a mystical area, as one might notice from some of his films and references, he answers that he is rather concerned with “the man’s relationship with the sacred”. “It’s what keeps up standing every day, really. All our struggles arise from that. Sometimes we don’t pay attention to it at all. And we grab on all kinds of external elements or illusions that we create for ourselves, and thus we reach contradictory states. Your inner being might try to tell you something, but you’re too far to make out what it’s saying. Hence the absurd landscape that I keep thinking about of late and which offers a lot of possibilities”, says Andrei Rautu.
About him being a young and aspiring director in Romanian cinema, he confesses that he sometimes feels discouraged: “I come with ideas for projects, but the answers fail to appear. Sometimes I lose confidence in my own project. But that’s what it is. The search is endless. Somehow, all you have to do is keep trying. First of all, you need to have some projects to show and to be satisfied with, which requires some kind of discipline. There is the risk, amplified by the time spent on social media, of getting used to receiving instant gratification. You wrote a ten-page screenplay and you want to make a short film, but maybe you need to spend more time on it and do some more research in order to convince someone. Sometimes I think that, as an artist, you may need to focus on something of present times when choosing your subject. Human problems are universal, always valid, but maybe it’s better to address something that fits the today’s context. I don’t know very well.”
“It’s important for the artist to always have a functional relationship with themselves and to know themselves really well. If they have contradictory states that they may not understand at a certain moment, then at least they should accept them, know their aspirations and how to deal with things along the way. As an artist, I think it’s essential to do your best not to fall apart. To be able to maintain a line and follow it through for a longer time. So there’s a chance for you to catch the big fish”, concludes Andrei Rautu.
Photo Credit: Alin Ciuchi