An interview with Corneliu Porumboiu about La Gomera

12 June, 2019

Corneliu Porumboiu is a well-known name in the local cinema. Along with filmmakers like Puiu or Mungiu, he contributed to building the “New Romanian Wave”; their films have put Romania on the European film map and created a new generation of Romanian filmmakers. This year, Corneliu released La Gomera/The Whistlers, his fifth fiction film, at Cannes Film Festival, where he was awarded in previous years for 12:08 East of Bucharest – his feature debut, Police, Adjective and The Treasure.

I’ve met Porumboiu at TIFF, where his latest film had its national premiere. A noir thriller with Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) in the forefront, a corrupt policeman who gets involved in a 30 million-dollar drug deal and arrives on La Gomera Island to learn “el sylbo” – a whistle language used by locals and the drug dealers involved in this line of business. I found out about Corneliu’s availability for the interview a few hours before the screening and although it was impossible to watch the film before the interview, I accepted the challenge hoping to get to know better the man behind the camera, this director who already became a classic in the Romanian cinema. To find out how it went, read the interview below.

What do you remember about your college years?

I used to work a lot, twice as much as I actually had to do –  as a number of film projects. Making film is a very practical job, beyond what you learn in college. When you talk to actors, technicians, everyone involved, there are so many different jobs, it takes time until you learn all these. I’ve always seen cinema as a long way to go on.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I think they come to me somehow, I don’t look for them on precise moments. For example, with La Gomera – I had seen a TV show on this whistle language, I was in France at my parents in law. I just finished Police, Adjective, and I started to do some research on the subject. Same with Infinite Football,  Laurentiu called me ten years ago to tell me “man, I want to change the rules of football”. I think you have to be open or curious. At each project, during the writing period, I’ve thrown screenplays, even of 70-80 pages, in the trash.

Writer’s block.

Yes. I write at least eight hours a day, I have a type of discipline I have developed in time.

Do you think about your audience when writing a screenplay?

Obviously. I’m interested in having a certain kind of sincerity in relation to the story itself and how it is perceived by the audience.

La Gomera is totally different from everything you’ve written and directed so far. What have you learnt from this experience?

It was certainly the most complicated project in terms of production, we filmed for the first time abroad, with foreign actors. I was well prepared, I think it’s good to learn things before you start shooting, but on the set I think I learned the most from people, I interacted with many different human typologies.

Tell me about the greatest challenges you had to face during the shootings.

The hardest sequence was the final one, we had a single day of shooting in the gardens of Singapore. The show lasts 12 minutes and there are two shows per night, so we had to shoot that scene in 24 minutes with most of the team from there. Only me, the leading actors, the producer, the DOP, and the focus puller were Romanians, the rest were from Singapore – 25 people altogether. It was crazy because the garden was crowded with tourists, and at all times we needed to have four people in front of the camera to get people out of the shot. It was super stressful, but it worked out well in the end.

Are there any directors or films that inspired you in your career as a director?

Yes, at each film I have references. For La Gomera I have seen many noir films such as Double Indemnity, Big Sleep, Lola, Gilda, First Men, Notorious.

But do you have some favorite directors too?

There are a few, like Eric Rhomer, Charlie Chaplin, Buston Keaton, Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick. I also like to watch movies that are not masterpieces, but stir something in me. And I change myself in relation to cinema, sometimes I regret not going to the cinema as much as I want to.

With every film you make, you earn some more awards in well-known European festivals. What do they mean to you?

For a director, the last film matters a lot, if the last film is good, that means you can make the next one, too, so it’s important that my films are appreciated. It is more important for a film because we come from a minority culture, and Romanian films are difficult to distribute internationally, so the selection in festivals does matter. Perhaps if I were to make a film in France or in the States, there wouldn’t be so much pressure.

Would you say that the feedback received from critics and festivals is more important than that received from the public?

I think they connected at some level, in the end a good review in a well-known newspaper brings you a larger audience.

I’m curious what you think about new technologies. Do you think you’ll ever embrace them?

I once followed a VR training course, I am curious, but I have to get more into it. However, I do believe that these are good times for cinema, the world needs stories, and since streaming networks, there is  a great need for content. I don’t think things will change so radically very soon, we live in a world with a lot of independent filmmaking: if you have a camera and three people, you can make something.

Do you think you’ll ever give up on making films?

No, I don’t, I like it a lot, but then you never know. Ten years ago if you told me I was going to make a film with flashbacks, I would have told you “no way, not me”. I like what I do, I make a living out of it, and I don’t know what else I could do.

Photo credit: Vlad Cioplea

Laura Musat Laura Musat
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 Thursday interviews with Flavia. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.

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