Ioana Flora, about Fragile: “I felt like I was giving something back”
Ioana Flora is a prolific Romanian actress, who played in more than 20 films in the last 20 years. She has starred in Stuff and Dough (2001), the feature film directed by Cristi Puiu and considered the movie which started the Romanian New Wave. Since then, she has worked with numerous popular film directors, acted in TV series and received two Gopo Awards. During the pandemic, Ioana – like many other actors, was left with no more roles to play. It was a time of reflection, of self-development and discoveries. With the help of Rucsandra Pop, a Romanian writer and anthropologist she found her next project – a docu-series about women within the Romanian society and their vulnerabilities. Without second thoughts, Ioana jumped into it with a lot of enthusiasm. In the interview below, we find out how it all started, what she has learned from it and what are her future plans with this special project.
Ioana, first of all congrats for your project and your determination. I know you’ve been asked before, but for our readers who don’t know, could you tell me how did Fragile come about?
I had started meeting with Rucsandra Pop, writer and anthropologist, right before the pandemic – and we continued to meet during the pandemic – to discuss another project. She had told me about a personal project about discovering the journey of different people and corporations, the way they reinvented themselves. I offered to be her first subject (laughs). For about 2-3 months we met once a week and she gave me homeworks – discovering my goal, my vision, my purpose besides acting. Working in this intriguing style I realized I would like to reflect the vulnerabilities of women and tell their stories. That I would like to be the mirror of the women who don’t have the courage to speak up or whose voices aren’t always heard, and that I could use my position in the social space in that sense. This is how Fragile came about.
The docuseries has ten episodes and five of them are now available on the official website. Tell me more about the women behind the camera, the ones who became the inspiration for the episodes already released.
They are women who have taken charge of their own narratives even before telling their stories, they had already taken some steps towards healing, changing the paradigm they used to live in. We got to meet them all through the NGOs that became our partners. There hasn’t been any reluctance on their part, but in some cases we felt there was some concern. For this reason, we had script approval contracts so they all saw the episodes and many of them told me they felt like they had seen themselves, which I took as a compliment.
For me, it was very important not to deceive their trust in me or in our process, and so we didn’t change anything in their confession, nor in their gestures or behavior.
They’re all OK now, they go on with their lives. I would even dare say that our project has contributed to their healing or their sense of freedom. Personally, I saw pieces of myself in each and one of them. And I really loved their light, a light they discovered in their journey.
How did you choose the five types of women and why did you start the project with them?
It’s all thanks to Rucsandra, she came up with all sorts of ideas that were out of the box – for example, the woman in politics, or wonder woman, who aren’t your obvious examples of trauma. She proposed that we present not just the problem, but also the solutions these women found, so not only the darkness, but also the light – something that worked very well.
I really liked the way the website is designed, it presents not only the episodes, but also the associations that can offer help to women in need, and there’s also the possibility to donate to these associations, if you’re on the other side of the story. Did you have that in mind from the beginning, or did these elements come through the participation of your colleagues, Ioana and Rucsandra?
At first it was Rucsandra and me. I knew I wanted to have confession-type monologues, I wanted them to be very simple, raw, documentary style. I don’t know exactly when this idea came up, but we realized that we can find the stories with the help of the NGOs and that’s how we partnered with them; Rucsandra saw to this part of the project. When Ioana, the PR team, the production team, and the people who designed this amazing website joined the project, the idea of having a support network became even more obvious. Then the next question arose: what is our “call to action” – what do we want? And we realized that our aim is to facilitate women in vulnerable situations to get in touch with our partner NGOs.
I’m curious to know if the women who watched the episodes and identified with the stories have contacted you or any of the NGOs.
In the first week a woman contacted us, with whom we’re now in touch and whose story we’re exploring – we hope more episodes will follow (ie – in addition to those already made). She was the first to contact us, hopefully other stories will come through. There are women who don’t have the courage yet, or maybe this project has only reached the people in our bubble so far – the middle class women whose problems aren’t so bad that they can’t be handled. But people who live mostly in rural areas or even larger cities, but are not in our bubble, may not yet have access to our project. We still think about ways we could reach them and we recently set up an association – Fragile Society, through which we want to continue with such projects, hoping that we will reach women who are not in this bubble of ours.
What does this project mean for you, as a person and then as an actress?
I’m an actress not just because it’s my way of expressing my emotions, but also to create connections, to feel the energy between people – especially when it comes to theater performances. In terms of acting, it was fantastic for me to play a character who speaks about things that seem to have never happened, because they broke through that darkness, they’re not in that place anymore. And to make the story believable, I had to use some acting tricks.
It was a huge job to take, coming after a period in which I no longer knew what it meant to be an actor, but I totally committed to it. We shot everything in two days, five stories a day, but this time, the pleasure of acting was different because there was a cause behind it, it was the first time I got involved in social activism.
I was impressed by the small vulnerabilities, it was an even greater joy. I felt like I was giving something back.
Your docuseries talks about the fragility, vulnerability, pressure and prejudices felt by a woman. When did you feel most vulnerable?
When I gave birth and immediately after, in the first months. I got postpartum depression and I had no idea about it. It wasn’t acknowledged by those around me either. When I left the hospital, the psychologist told me to go see someone, but I didn’t think it was real. Postpartum depression needs to be managed, but that wasn’t the only reason I felt vulnerable, it was also because these two beings that I love more than anything else had just appeared. They were like crystals you don’t want to break and that makes you vulnerable.
There have always been strong, independent women who helped with the “emancipation of women in society”, whether they did it consciously or unconsciously. We’ve evolved a lot, we’ve changed laws, mentalities, habits, and yet, we’re still not considered equal to men, and in Romania we’re somewhat behind compared to other parts of Europe. Where do we stand, how do you see things evolving, and what are the needs of women in Romania?
This is a broad discussion, I cannot give a clear answer. Our laws are OK, but they are not obeyed, and the question is how do you get them to be obeyed.
A friend was telling me about a case, a husband who was an alcoholic and beat his wife, but according to him she was “the crazy one” – this macho attitude continues to exist in our society. You move on and come to terms with these things, but it’s still a constant struggle – you always have to prove that you’re neither hysterical nor crazy. We are talking about extreme cases, but they do exist. We’re far from the mentality in Western Europe and even further from that in the US.
And going back back to our bubble – we can express our opinions, many of us have tried therapy, we work on ourselves one way or another. As one of our characters used to say, “in the city it’s dolce far niente, in the rural area you might even die if you don’t do something”.
So I think there’s still a lot to be done and just some additional could help. Associations help us develop our civic spirit, they are a good example. I noticed there have been some improvements in this regard in the last years; we express our opinions, we take to the streets and we no longer accept the things that we find intolerable. I feel like we’re growing here.
If you were to choose one quality, what do you think is a woman’s superpower?
The power to give birth, to love unconditionally, starting from our nature; we are beings who give birth to other beings.
What does the ideal post-pandemic world look like in your vision?
Well, the way it was before the pandemic (laughs).
Last but not least, tell me what’s next for Fragile: when do you intend to release the next episodes and what are the Fragile Society’s plans for the future?
Theoretically speaking, the next five episodes will be released in the fall. We applied for some financing for another five episodes that we hope to produce through Fragile Society. Our mission and vision is to give courage and strength to women, through everything that is meant to be art.
The first five episodes of Fragile are available on their official website.