San Sebastian 2021: Interview with the crews of the films Blue Moon & Mikado

24 September, 2021

I first visited San Sebastian in 2018, when I worked up the courage to go (completely) alone on my first trip to a foreign city, out of the desire to explore the major European film festivals – and I started with San Sebastian Film Festival, where I promised myself that I would return, even though it’s a long way from Romania. Here we are in 2021, a year in these challenging times we live in that won’t be forgotten too soon, but which felt like the right moment to have my second visit to the festival. With a selection of over 80 films – including four Romanian productions (two short films and two features) – in 6 competitive sections, the SSIFF program this year hasn’t lacked in variety, but post-pandemic, the festival does not look the same – although each film has five screenings, cinemas are open only at half capacity and booking tickets is a constant marathon. However, I enjoyed every screening I could attend and I took the opportunity to have a brief conversation with the director of Marocco/Mikado – Emanuel Pârvu, and the protagonists of Crai Nou/Blue Moon (directed by Alina Grigore) – Ioana Chițu and Mircea Postelnicu.

Marocco / Mikado. Emanuel Pârvu

I saw Mikado on my last night in San Sebastian, at the invitation of the film’s team, with my good friend Emilia, who accompanied me this year – and who, although she is not a cinephile and doesn’t watch Romanian films, was deeply moved and impressed by this particular one, which says a lot about the potential of the second feature signed by Emanuel Pârvu.

The story follows the father-daughter relationship between Cristi (Șerban Pavlu) and Magda (played impeccably by Ana Indricău) and urges us to reflect on our relationships with our children and/or parents. One day, Magda offers the expensive necklace she received from her father to a little girl suffering from cancer. Her father is convinced that Magda is lying, and when she proves her innocence, it is impossible for him to accept that he was wrong. A story about the consequences of mistrust and moral responsibility.

Serban Pavlu, Ana Indricău and Tudor Cucu-Dumitrescu in Marocco / Mikado

Congratulations on the film, Emanuel! I really liked it. I noticed at the end that you dedicated this film to your father. What’s the story behind the story?

The story is simple. My father died two months before the shootings started, which came as a shock. My father was not ill, there was nothing wrong with him. The night before, at about midnight, we were talking on the phone and I told him to keep it down, so as not to wake my mother. We ended the conversation by agreeing to hear each other in the morning and in the morning my mother called me to give me the news. That was it.

I think he would have been very happy to see the film.

Cristi (Șerban Pavlu) is a very nervous parent, who always seems to act in moments when he doesn’t think clearly, and every decision he makes has a negative impact on both his life and that of his loved ones. What is your relationship with your daughter like and what challenges have you encountered as a parent?

When the idea for the film began to take shape and after talking with Alex Popa, with whom I wrote the screenplay, I turned to what Paul the Apostle says in the Epistle to the Romans – “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” I think it’s something we should think about more. I don’t think there are bad people, I think we all have good intentions, but my view of the good may not coincide with your view of the good, and sometimes it leads to a negative outcome. I was interested in the “ground zero”, the starting point of the intention, the source of “evil”. I apply the same thing when it comes to my daughter, with whom I have a very good relationship – I try not to perpetuate the relationship I had with my father, rather listen to her, and every time something happens, we follow the thread to find out what was ground zero for the unfortunate event.

I really liked the two young actors, especially Ana Indricău. How did you find them?

Cucu (i.e.- Tudor Cucu) was my student in college, and I discovered Ana at the casting. We had an ad and we received about 200 audition videos. The casting lasted about 5 months. She had finished acting school and was also in a good theater group, but she had that specific training, she had never played in a film, and it was hard for her to come and scream and swear at Șerban Pavlu. But she did very well, she’s a good actress.

What is the meaning of the title?

Marocco is a game from Ceausescu’s time, it’s called Mikado abroad. It consists of a set of sticks you throw on the table and then the players take turns in trying to draw out a stick from the bundle without moving or touching the others. But because of all the contact points between the sticks, when you would try to take one out from a corner of the bundle, you would feel something moving on the opposite side, where you wouldn’t have expected. It seemed like a good reference for the film.

The team of Marocco / Mikado, at the movie premiere at San Sebastian

You were in Venice with Miracle, a film you starred in, in Sarajevo with the third feature you are developing, and now here in San Sebastian, where you’ve been selected in the “New Directors” competition. Looks like you’re on a roll. How do you reconcile the two professional roles you have taken on?

I try to separate them and apply what I learn from one side to the other. As an actor, I never comment on the director’s choices or decisions – when I first stepped into the role of director and saw how difficult it is, I realized that no director needs an actor who argues or objects to things; so I do not deviate from their path and vision.

As a director, I’m terrible. I torment my actors (laughs). Coming from theater, rehearsals are very important to me, so I insist on having as many as possible. This is where you debate and clarify things, so that when we move on to the shootings, we perform something we know very well. I have a major problem with actors who don’t learn their text well – they should know it, whatever actions you give them to do. For this film, we had about two months of rehearsals and 24 days for the shooting. In general, I like working with the same people, with whom I speak the same language, with whom I feel I’m on the same page, and whenever I feel that I am losing my sense of reason, I know they are there for me. I don’t think you can make a movie on your own, without a team; and all the discussions, whatever the film, start between me and the producer, Miruna Berescu – in Romania, this profession is not yet sufficiently appreciated. I think a producer has to believe in your project, feel it and be willing to make sacrifices as big as you. When you find this person, you keep them by your side.

Crai Nou / Blue Moon. Mircea Postelnicu & Ioana Chițu

Alina Grigore (known for the lead role in Illegitimate, by Adrian Sitaru) makes her directing debut with Blue Moon – a psychological drama about the patriarchal mentality existing in rural areas in Romania to this day, which also affects Irina (played by Ioana Chițu), a confused but ambitious young woman, who wants to break away from her dysfunctional family and move to Bucharest to continue her studies. Irina is always together with her cousin, Liviu – an edgy man, who needs Irina’s help to get through his daily chores since he is illiterate.

Presented this year in the official competition of the San Sebastian Festival (and with great odds on winning one of the awards), the film surprises pleasantly due to the directorial approach that doesn’t fall into any pre-established cinematic patterns. As my colleague Victor Morozov states in his review for Scena9, “this feeling that you hardly seem to cross these days – that you landed in a film as in the middle of a life in progress, which very well stretches beyond the limits of the frame, indifferent to any whimsy in the name of edification – makes «Blue Moon» a round film, about to boil over any minute now and entangle us in its vital torrent.”

I think the chief asset of this film is you, the actors. Alina created some complex and deep characters, whom she worked on a lot in collaboration with you. It was a long, collective process – what has this film meant to you, as actors?

Mircea Postelnicu: I remember the days spent at the Gigi Ursu cabin, whether we are talking about our first trip there, when we went for rehearsals, or the 12-day shooting – the whole experience will stay in my memory forever. It felt like an intimate setting where everyone involved came with positive energy and a devotion that I have rarely encountered in my projects so far. I think it also had to do with having non-professional actors in the cast, everyone was there for the project, they believed in it.

Ioana Chițu: I don’t necessarily agree (i.e. – that we are the chief asset of the film). Although we’re the ones appearing in the film, I think that all the work behind it should be reflected in the final product – from the technical crew to the ladies who cooked for us, we were all very involved. I would like to continue working this way, in a setting where we are all involved in the creative process and have the chance to get to know our characters in depth. On other film projects, you usually rehearse for about two weeks; in this case, I had a year and a half at my disposal, and I used this time to write all sorts of character sheets and notebooks. I would love to work like this from now on.

M.P.: The way Alina considered our proposals during the rehearsals, the openness she showed towards our ideas, using and adapting the text based on our suggestions, all this gave me confidence. And that’s another thing that will stay with me.

I.C.: I first worked with Alina in theater, more than ten years ago, and I could see she had a different way of working and an extraordinary understanding of the actor and their mechanisms. As Mircea says, she had trust in us. And offered us the freedom to express ourselves.

Mircea Silaghi and Mircea Postelnicu in Crai Nou

Mircea, in your relationship with Ioana’s character, you are the older cousin, who protects her but also forces his masculine authority on her. At the same time, it seems that Irina’s ambition to leave for the Capital to continue her studies frustrates you a little, as if you didn’t have such an opportunity. You portray an edgy and ambivalent character. 

M.P.: Liviu is a character divided between two worlds – on the one hand, I think he admires Irina and her abilities; at the same time, he has the complex of being less educated, to which are added the frustrations, the traumas felt throughout his history, which have piled up and now eat him up inside. He understands that Irina wants to leave, but he doesn’t consider it necessary – he takes her leaving as a disgrace to him and the rest of the family, which hurts him. I think all his inner struggle stems from exactly that and I don’t think he has the ability to understand what’s going on with him, or to solve anything. He is not an emotionally intelligent man, or intellectually for that matter; he doesn’t have the mechanisms, nor the words. He cannot verbalize what he feels and has in front of him a person much more capable than him (i.e. – Irina).

Women’s social status has changed throughout history, especially in the last decade, as gender equality has become increasingly important. Socio-political hierarchy and prejudices disappear over time, but not so much in rural areas – and if we look at Romania, they still exist in major cities. Starting from this film, I am curious if you still have to deal with some of the all-too-known stereotypes or prejudices cast upon women.

I.C.: Indeed, identity and gender inequality still exist, unfortunately. And not only in rural areas or only in Romania. I think it exists all over the world and it’s a systemic issue. Women’s bodies and choices are still being debated, and in a quite violent way. With all my privileges, I still have many fears; a simple trip by public transport, for example, can turn into a traumatic experience. Moreover, all these expectations on performing gender roles and certain “behaviors” can create fears: of not being taken seriously because you are too vulnerable or superficial, too masculine, or what have you, of not being enough or just wrong; often judged because you’re not or don’t want to be a wife or a mother, or because if you want to work in fields considered “masculine”. That is why it’s important to create safe environments and communities, support each other, and have feminist male allies.

“Blue Moon” comes out in Romanian cinemas in November. In the print issue of Films in Frame magazine, which will appear in October, you will find a review written by Diana Smeu.

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.