Archives as testimonies. Raluca Durbacă discusses “The Certainty of Proabilities”

27 July, 2021

In the last few years, an increasing number of young, female Romanian directors have released their feature films debuts – and the newest filmmaker to join this phenomenon is Raluca Durbacă, with “The Certainty of Probabilities”. Known for her activity as a film critic, as a member of the FILM MENU collective and her essays in “The Politics of Film” and “Films of Transition” (both published by Tact, in 2014 and 2017, respectively), Raluca Durbacă debuts with a found footage film built entirely from materials of the “Alexandru Sahia” studio, all dating from the year 1968. The film, built along three conceptual keys of interpretation that allow the analysis of propaganda – ideology, language and interpretation -, analyzes the representation of various social classes of a seemingly glorious Romania in contrast to its protest-swept western counterparts.

We spoke with Raluca Durbacă about the process of editing the raw materials from the archives and the structure of the film, the importance of decoding when it comes to found footage cinema, and the fact of being a female filmmaker in an industry still largely dominated by male figures.

Foto: Sabina Costinel.
Photo: Sabina Costinel.

How did you relate to the materials from the archives as you were watching them for the first time?

The ambivalence of the images was problematic because it took me a while to understand how to relate to them. You can’t relate to them in bulk – at least, I couldn’t – to take them as if they were all the lowest kind of propaganda you can imagine, or the palpable proof of a golden age that is long expired. It wasn’t until I saw the footage four or five times that I actually started to see them. The first time it felt like a spectacle and that was it. It was a very strange experience that I can’t, I don’t know how to properly reproduce or explain. The only thing that helped me detach from an emotional point of view, to put an end to the spectacle, was to go through these materials repeatedly. That is how the selection process began, together with Letiția (i.e. – Letiția Ştefănescu, the film’s editor). First, we looked at the bulk of materials and if we liked something, we selected it. But we didn’t have a selection strategy, per se. Whatever she liked, whatever I liked, it didn’t matter, we chose whatever attracted our attention. And after the first round of selection, we started to see patterns – thematically, stylistic, verbal, shots that would be reprised in various materials. And then we began to split them according to several segments, such as “agriculture”, “industry”, “tourism”, “parades”, “advertisements”, and a big segment dedicated to work relations. We reviewed the segments about three or four times and only then did I realize that what united all the materials, regardless of their theme, was the way in which the power relations between the social classes were represented. So we needed repeated viewings to understand exactly what lies in that cache of footage, because it has a lot of layers.

Was that the reason why you chose to edit the materials according to thematic criteria?

Yes, because initially, when I wrote the script for the Romanian Film Center’s (CNC) financing session, I wrote it in chronological order – but I wrote it without having any idea what we were going to find in the archives. So, I took all the history books about 1968 in Romania that I could find, all the sources, and I created a timeline of events, which I then “decorated” with impressions, turning it into a kind of script, and then submitted it to the CNC. The moment I went to the Archive (i.e. – the National Film Archives, ANF), I realized that nothing related to that initial script which won the CNC contest, and, moreso, that the film had to go in a different direction. Historical events didn’t matter anymore, what mattered were the materials in the archive.

Letitia and I had long discussions about how to order the film, and in the end, we concluded that we had to put it in a thematic order because I didn’t see any other solution to it. Given that I was passionate about the patterns that I saw across the body of footage, the easiest way to identify and emphasize them was to place the material in a thematic order. It’s complicated to question something as abstract as the power relations between social classes without pointing a finger at them. By dividing the film into spaces – urban, rural, industrial, large festivities and parades, volunteer work sites, etc. –, I could also discuss the social classes that operated in those spaces and, at the same time, show the differences in their representation, since said representation was in the hands of a single actor – the “Alexandru Sahia” film studio.

And it seems to me that you’re somehow going from the top down – you start from these playful materials, then you go into a series of glossy advertisements – going progressively down the ranks and jobs until you arrive to the miners. Was this a conscious choice?

No, it wasn’t conscious – I didn’t realize that’s how things were going to look in the end. I only knew where I wanted to go, and that is the ending. And I also knew what types of images I want to mirror each-other and to be in proximity, meaning, in dialogue. After that, each segment found its own place. The film grew and was built organically. I tried with Letitia to rotate them around, to reverse them, but they didn’t work anymore.

I was interested, for example, in the first part, the one with glossy ads, to start from some ideas that govern society and the urban environment, the middle class that lives in this environment, and to which those ads were addressed. In his review, Gorzo said that these were commercials for “luxury” products – no, they’re not, let’s face it, these are ads for face creams, shampoos, and some bananas. Instead of seeing the flagrant commodity fetishism at hand, he’s weeping on the shoulders of the communists, whom I am apparently wronging somehow in his line of argumentation, by comparing their “luxury” products with those produced by capitalist societies. I have never seen them as luxury products. I was much more interested in their trajectory from a rhetorical point of view – the fact that those young people go to the West and criticize the practices of consumerism, one that is also present at home, and where there is also a policy of encouraging consumption – I mean, of course, the fact that those products were not accessible to everyone was true then and it’s true now, when everyone has the chance to buy something, but not everyone has the same purchasing power. But whoever has the purchasing power feels entitled to criticize the vendors because they seemingly don’t serve them promptly, that their products are not diverse enough or in sufficient quantities. For me, the focus was the area where these particular types of discourses are born out of consumption practices and end up levied against the merchants that were selling them – like Comrade Vlăduț Dumitru who doesn’t put fresh onions on his grocery stand in time, or this furniture shop that has no furniture for the young people who want to furnish their homes, or the fact that there were not enough sports baby carts around etc. In all this pressure towards consumption, the hypocritical way in which they relate to consumer society and the pressure they exert on the buyers through those advertisements, it all ends up falling on the shoulders of the intermediaries and producers, and who are treated with disrespect by the buyers. That was my critique. Not the fact that they were selling face cream.

The segments were placed in this particular order because what interested me more was the rhythm of the montage. For it to start on a tone that’s a little lighter, more fun, less angry. I wanted to disarm the viewer who was probably expecting a long procession of sleep-inducing propaganda and  to seduce them at the same time, because the images are seductive, to make them regard the footage with less anger, at least at first, and then move on to more serious things, truly painful things. I wanted the rhythm of the editing to give the viewer a kind of emotional key towards reading the film. Yeah, it’s funny, ha-ha, you have these hilarious communist poetics… but for some, life was not so easy, while for others it was easier to bear. For me, in the end, it all comes down to the ways in which you remember the past. Because what you see in these images are real people, who have led real lives.

That’s what I found wonderful about the excerpt you used at the end of the film, which sort of distills these mostly prefabricated images into something that feels very real. It’s also a surprise – and archives do indeed contain surprises. When you enter an archive like the ANF, it seems to me that the main expectation that one has is that they are going to find a lot of propaganda while looking at communist-era documentaries, which is also the case, largely.

Yes, there’s an extreme amount of propaganda.

And then you stumble upon a recording like this.

And it’s so very candid. Very palpable, very real. It tells the lived experience of a handful of people in very simple words, and their experiences are not all similar to each other or triumphant in nature. From the ship captain to the miner who says that you don’t have to ask anything of life, but rather to rip it out of its hands, down to the man who polishes shoes – the ways in which they relate to their own lives is manifestly different. To me, the true film actually lies there, in the ending. At the bottom line, every single one of them discusses life differently. And when you’re in my position, that is, trying to analyze a social landscape, you cannot just come in and say that things were like this or like that, because then you have subjective memories telling you that you’re wrong. You can’t simply reduce the experience of various social categories to what suits you best as an auteur. That’s why I asked myself a million questions while editing the film. That’s why I limited myself to discussing that moment from the perspective of the ideas, values, norms that governed society, to show the structure, the construction, the relations. Meaning, to work on a more abstract level, using some extremely concrete images, which are part of other ideological constructions.

Foto: Sabina Costinel.
Photo: Sabina Costinel.

I found your choice to use intertitles that push viewers towards a Foucauldian analysis of discourse quite interesting. Did you intend to use them from the very beginning, or was this also a part of the process of accommodating yourself with the materials?

It was a dialectical process, to be honest. I initially did not plan to use them. For me, the film was sufficient without them and worked perfectly. But then someone, a friend of mine, made this observation about the film at one point – that it’s this kind of Godardian montage where the only one who knows what happened there is Godard himself. And I said to myself, “oh, gosh!”. Because I didn’t want to be the only person who understood just what it is that I did there.

I realized that because the materials are very complex, although it seemed to me that the structures were clear, there were no breathers in the film. It did indeed steal my gaze because I knew exactly where a segment was ending, but the spectator didn’t. By the time you realize that one segment was finished and that another one had started, you would end up losing your grasp on the internal structure of the segment. That’s when I felt the need to use intertitles, something that would separate things, something that’s very clear. I had several variations, some that used more complicated texts – the option was to go to Boris Groys’ The Communist Postscript (2006), but the texts were way too long. The book is wonderful, if you ask me, but I was ashamed to cut away fragments or paragraphs from the text, because then you would have to read something on the screen for half an hour… Anyway, it was complicated. Up until I came up with this form that’s a little more distilled, in which I set three main parameters that are sufficiently comprehensive to comprise every segment, but also to be applicable in every particular one. And it was only then that I arrived at this form.

But, only to figure out, first of all, what the concept of ideology is and to find a definition of it, I had to read a 500-page volume which passed me through all of its definitions. It really messed my brain up. Completely. I even ended up looking at videos of Zizek on the internet to find someone that would make things easier for me. I went so far down the rabbit hole that I even ended up downloading a collection of jokes that he wrote – “Did you hear the one about Hegel and negation?“. That’s how deep I went, and that was the end of it. At that point I had to tell myself, “okay, snap out of it and get back to work”.

Although, truth be told, the sphere of theoretical discourse can become extremely closed-off from a certain point, very self-sufficient. I mean, it fries your brains a little bit. 

It fries them up a little, yeah – for me, it was problematic; because if, again, I am the only one who can understand this text that’s here on the screen, it’s all useless! That’s how I came up with this formula: ideology-language-interpretation, which to me seemed to lend itself best to my intentions and that it’s capable of giving some directions through which one could look at the material itself and at the structure in which I placed it, that it could help the viewer guide themselves a little. For me, if you can take this step, it’s okay. If you can’t do it, if you just look at the editing, at the structure, then it’s also okay. Because I’m sure that, in the end, you’re going to get something out of it, some part of my intentions. Indeed, we all read things differently and look at them in different ways, and my ability to read a message also depends on my ability to decode your intentions, in the end. Morozov wrote in an article that I, unlike Ujică, do not believe in the power of these images. On the contrary, I think that the construction I chose shows you just how much I believe in them. And of course, I don’t believe in the force of completely decontextualized images, that are torn from their original production context in order to serve auteurist fictions. But I do believe in the power that these archive fragments have as a “testimony” of sorts. That is also the reason why I’ve never felt the need to cut out their original sound, to radically modify them, to put them in slow motion, to explain things… to me, they speak for themselves. They’re powerful enough to enter a dialogue with each other on their own. I think that if you go and sit down to watch this film without any preconceptions, you’re going to have your small epiphanies, mediated by my montage.

This issue of preconceptions is very delicate when I think about the reception of films such as The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu (r. Andrei Ujică, 2010) or Uppercase Print (r. Radu Jude, 2020), two found footage films that refuse to put out a very clear and detailed explanation of what is happening on the screen. That’s also related to the fact that interpretation is one of the three conceptual pillars of your film – this particular type of cinema relies quite heavily on your baggage as a spectator, especially since the kind of reading elicited here must be a critical one from the outset, which is a crucial element in understanding such films.

Well, I think that’s the problem, the fact that I ask the viewer to relate from the very beginning from a critical perspective to the materials, but not in the traditional logic of mainstream anti-communist discourse. Throughout the film I try to describe the ideology that transpires from the images, initially using fragments as I found them in the archive, to then criticize it in the rest of the film, where my interventions become increasingly strident and frequent. From my point of view, if there is anything to criticize there, it is precisely the social order, because, for example, only one type of social category is told that they should go on a trip in nature to relax, while others are hypocritically honored for smashing coal with pick-axes hundreds of meters below the ground, to the sound of deafening noise, and unable to smell the flowers in the park. I’ll digress. This reminds me of the reports during the pandemic about Romanian laborers who used to pick vegetables in the West and who were now suddenly endowed with superhuman powers by the Westerners who tried to justify their inability to do this kind of labor, by claiming that Romanians had stronger bodies. 

When the peasants are given the floor, they read these prefabricated hagiographies by the collective management or agronomic engineers – and that is when the hagiographies are not related by Sahia reporters themselves. Not to mention the representation of women, thrown somewhere between deer-like creatures hunted down by foreign cars and peasants who bend over backwards at work, coming from the ends of the world to make some coin by picking entire hectares of potatoes in December, with just a basket in their hands and paid per day. It’s a world that is divided between privileged and unprivileged, and you can see it in plain sight. I think that precisely because I am trying to critique the ideology that is laid out in the materials – but, and I repeat, not of “Communism” as it is traditionally identified in the mainstream –, the viewer who came to read the film in an anti-communist key, will read it as such. The problem is that most Romanians relate to the past with passion and emotion. Whether they lived back then or not, they know that they must feel a certain way about the communist past. Most feel contempt and disgust. The causes of these passions are less clear, however. That they starved to death in the 1980s. Okay, look, there were bananas on the market in the ’60s. Not a lot of onions, it seems, but they had bananas. So what are the causes of disgust? The “Prison Saints” and the crimes of the 1950s – although even here there’s more talk about the bourgeois that were stripped of their wealth and of former politicians that were imprisoned, rather than the revolts of peasants against collectivization –, the attempts of some Romanians to flee the country, Radio Free Europe and the Secret Police, and that’s it, that’s where the narratives ended. The word “communism” itself has become a political instrument, an out-of-pocket narrative of dominant groups whenever they want to push for social and economic changes. People are dead-set on destroying concepts, which is why I feel the need to come and clarify them to the best of my ability. Well, in this context, if I were to also come up with my own narration, put in a voice over, on top of other prefabricated narratives, to come, in a film in which I discuss ideological constructions, to place my own ideological constructions on top of all of that, it would have been pointless. That’s why I prefer to let the spectator see things with their own eyes, in the hope that at some point, they will be able to connect the ideas in there by themselves. A critique of ideology means to sow doubt. That’s what I’m trying to do throughout the entire film. Yes, it’s a risk. But it’s one that I willfully took on.

Foto: Sabina Costinel.
Foto: Sabina Costinel.

But, still, you have some moments in the film where your critique is palpable.  And I know that a lot of comparisons have been made between your film and the ANC

And that feels very amateur-like.

But there was a similar thing that I discovered in your film, strictly in terms of the device – the fact that you used music to strongly suggest a subversive reading, which Ujică also does, in the scene where he uses I Fought the Law. And that’s the scene in your film where Ceaușescu is flailing his hands like an opera director to the music of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody. And I wanted to ask you about that choice in particular. 

Certainly, I did use music for subversive purposes from the very beginning, as a kind of personal commentary. I find it to be the simplest, most “popular” (and I’m not ashamed of that) method of communicating to you, the spectator, that this is my opinion, in the most direct and immediate way possible. Obviously, my opinion is also inserted in the editing, but the simplest channel to communicate myself is through music. I don’t do it only in the piece with the Romanian Rhapsody. I also do it in the segment with Perinița during the Harvest Days at the Obor Market, and in the part where there is a reception after the conference of the Visual Artists’ Union, to a song by Gigi Marga. These are the three pieces of music that I added to the material. Otherwise, I used the music I found in the original materials as much as I could.

When I made the film, I refused to rewatch The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu. And that was out of fear of borrowing something from it. From its editing, its strategy, from everything. After I finished the film, I rewatched it and thought, “phew, it’s okay, I managed to avoid it”. When I started working on the film, I really wanted to work differently with archive materials. Even if it was going to be a failure, I decided to try other methods, to work the way I thought was best for the film. A beginner’s ambition, of course.  But I thought that this way of using music was a legitimate device. Before I did this film, Ujică made one that is this grandiose and monumental work – but that goes in a different direction, and uses a different logic in its editing. I’m much more into workers, peasants, Lalele, lalele and Perinița.

The major difference between the two films being – and that’s why it seems a little unfair to me that all these comparisons have been made in the press – is the fact that The Autobiography is a portrait and your film is a landscape.

Yes, it’s more of a diorama. And The Autobiography is a fictional self-portrait, the one that Ujică thinks Ceaușescu would have created for himself – there are many layers through which the narrative is mediated in there. I indeed also mediate some things, but I’m working with something else, with a different kind of material. The object of the film is completely different. Yes, they’re both films made from the same kind of materials, which regard the same historical period, sure, but I think that this is where all similarities come to an end. I work with pieces of audio-visual material, not with images.

And while you both use footage of Ceaușescu’s speech in ‘68, the economy of its usage is different. For Ujică, it’s the peak moment of a young leader who seems like a reformist, but which is actually one of the first moments when the situation starts to deteriorate and to go towards his infamous style of nationalism, and at you, is the peak of that year’s entire bubbly atmosphere – a “look how good everything is!” kind of moment.

“Even the Party’s with us, right?”. That’s what Letitia saw, who was much more skeptical than I was when we were looking at the raw materials, and rightly so – sometimes she was like this wall coming over me, saying “No!”. We were both fascinated by all the popular fervor that followed the speech on the 29th of August – okay, some were forced to applaud, but you can’t fake the image of the factory workers rushing for the chance of shaking Ceaușescu’s hand. And from what I read from the testimonies of the time, this enthusiasm was real, it was authentic for many people. It was, as you said, a pinnacle of all this overflowing optimism, which did and didn’t have some sort of basis in reality. But more than that, what these materials seem to show is the popular charisma that Ceaușescu had and that worked perfectly at this peak moment of anti-Sovietism, of Russophobia, call it what you want. But, first of all, the fact that he had this sort of popular charisma that was working at the time; he was seen as a young hope, and that’s what we wanted to capture.

That I put Rhapsody Romanian in the background and that this is a moment in the vein of The Great Dictator (dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1940) – yes, that’s my critical comment. On the other hand, what’s fascinating to me in those images, and that’s why I left them exactly as I found them in the archive, is just him, unedited, his facial expressions, his gestures, his non-verbal language, his passion. And all this in a shot that was much longer than the norm at Sahia, filmed with a fixed, frontal camera. I found the images in a soundless cine-reportage and they have fascinated me ever since I saw them. That’s why I refused to clean or edit them. I even kept the fade-outs between the frames. It just so happened that the Romanian Rhapsody fit perfectly with this fragment. Together with Letiția, I built the beginning and the end of the whole segment by using these shots as its center of gravity.

I realize that, at the same time, what I did there is very simplistic and immediate – it’s easy to make fun of Ceaușescu, everyone agrees that he was an illiterate imbecile who drove our country off the cliff – so the easiest kind of recuperation is this one. But I also wanted to have a present recuperation in the film, I wanted to replicate all these different types of relating to that period in time. I know that sometimes it can seem incoherent, or that the editing within the segments is much too diverse – on the other hand, for me it was important to go through all of the ways I could work with these materials, to tick them all off, in a way.

There are also fragments in which there’s a clear reverberation towards the present. Like, for example, the scene with the banana vendor –

Echoes of the eighties, exactly.

Or the scenes featuring miners, a class of workers that in the nineties was an ideological battleground.

Ceaușescu’s too, because, once again, it was a way in which the working class was used to legitimize the actions of the Party, which then, in the nineties, was reflected in the anti-communist discourse. They’re also a class that was highly manipulated, an ideological construct that was used by different regimes for various purposes.

And here, to me, it seemed like it was one of your manifest intentions, to enter a dialogue with these things that are part of the popular culture, the popular knowledge of communism.

Yes, because you can’t run away from them. There are common places where each of us goes to, because they are so well-rooted in popular culture. They are landmarks of anti-communist discourse. For example, someone asked me in an interview about the footage with the Secret Police from the beginning. It seemed extremely important and relevant to them that we had chosen that material, as if we both had a secret understanding of why we had introduced that material. Yes, it was a conscious decision to introduce the material and I did it knowing that it will arouse passionate responses. It’s just that the material in cause is related to the previous one, in which a Scotsman is singing a patriotic song on the very same stage, at the Palace Hall, where the Securitate celebrates its anniversary a few months later. A show next to another show. If you come to the movie with the clear intention of identifying certain landmarks, then you will only see those landmarks.

Or the reportage shot in Western Europe by Nicolae Mărgineanu, who nowadays is known for his post-Revolutionary anti-communist films.  

I wanted to be very careful while using materials that showed recognizable people who are still alive. I wanted to be tactful. I read about him, his life was quite difficult – his father was imprisoned for sixteen years. I can assume that he had a difficult childhood and that is the reason why he is directing anti-communist films nowadays. But personally, I can’t call him a privileged man, just because he was sent on a trip to the West in 1968. He falls into the ranks of privileged intellectuals, yes – this category that benefited from the possibility of training abroad, who could take trips to Western Europe, a category to which the state, considering that it was composed of important and valuable people, tried to offer a little more possibilities.

And, to come back to Mărgineanu, things are basically the same as they were in the nineties. Anyone who recognized themselves in the footage and feels offended can come and say that they were obligated to shoot that material – as many others have said – by the Party. “I was forced, I was young, I was naive, here I am now, after the Revolution, fifty years later, redeeming myself by making anti-communist films.” Most will accept these justifications, as they did with most people that reached for similar arguments. We have a former president that was a Secret Police informant, I mean. Mărgineanu going to Denmark 52 years ago should be the least of anyone’s problems.

Foto: Sabina Costinel.
Photo: Sabina Costinel.

To conclude our talk… How do you feel about the fact that you’re a working female director in the field of non-fiction, especially considering that you’ve also worked in film production and criticism in the past, and that your work was instantly compared to male directors?

I’m not bothered by comparisons with men, but rather by the lack of proportion in these discussions. It’s one thing to compare apples to oranges, that is, my film with ANC, it’s another to compare me, a debutante, with Andrei Ujică, a well-known director. Andrei Gorzo does that. And he compares me not only as a director, but also as an intellectual who, unlike Ujică, I quote, “has no vision of history”. What can I do? Also, there are few women who have worked with archive material. I think that Alina Manolache also combines some original footage with archives, I haven’t seen her movie yet. And I think that Nora Agapi’s film was also compared to ANC.

Although there are also fragments of an official archive in Timebox, they’re only used because they were shot by her father.

Exactly. I mean, the object of the movie itself is very different.

Look, I’m going to reread the reviews of Uppercase Print to see if they also claim that the film proved, once more, that ANC is a milestone for Romanian found footage cinema. It seems to me like a lazy comparison, which hints at a poor knowledge of the history of found footage. As is the act of throwing the word “compilation” in reviews, as if it were something dirty. An entire cinematic tradition is completely ignored when “compilation” becomes just an insult. Emile de Antonio also makes a compilation in Point of Order, for example, but you can’t look at that movie and say “oh, it’s just a compilation”. Plus, what I’m doing is more of a collage.

I also think of the fact that female predecessors are somewhat neglected. The mere fact that the first found footage film was made by a woman, Esfir Shub, for example…

If we talk about our predecessors in Romania, let’s say it’s more complicated, few films have been made with archive materials here in general. But at the level of world cinema, there are plenty of references. Before I started editing, I also watched Abigail Child’s films, Leslie Thornton’s films, I tried to find some cinematic landmarks that were directed by women. I also saw movies by Ken Jacobs, Bruce Conner, Emile de Antonio, Craig Baldwin, and many others. I rewatched Godard and Farocki. I picked up all the found footage about ’68 that I could find. I tried to look in all directions, not to work blindly, without knowing at least a modicum of history of the tradition in which I am trying to set myself into.

But speaking of Esfir Shub. I read in an article that she had been an editor for a very long time and that she saw The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty as her chance to become a director. It was about the same for me. I wasn’t an editor, but my desire to make films is an old one. 

Actually, that’s why I think I went towards film criticism, at first – to learn what cinema is. And I thought that if I know what film is well enough, then the step towards directing would be an easy one. To finally get the courage to start making films, I had to go through a personal crisis. The one who encouraged me back then was Velvet Moraru, my producer – so, it took another woman to get me started, so to speak. And I mean this with the utmost sincerity  –stupidly, I found it much easier and safer for me to make a found footage film. I didn’t even realize how much I had sabotaged myself by the time I started editing. I found the thought of working on a classical non-fiction documentary, in which I would be shooting original material, a little bit paralyzing, I still do. If I could be the man with the plan and do films alone and at my own pace, I’d do it.

After I finished the movie, I had a sort of breakdown. Due to various reasons: personal problems, the pandemic, exhaustion, the fact that I only received rejections at international documentary festivals (and I still am), combined with the mixed reactions of those who had seen the film. I was starting to feel like an impostor, an amateur, so I drew the line, like the people at the end of the movie, and I started asking myself questions. I said this before, at the round table organized by One World Romania, that when I was a kid, I dreamed of being the wife of a writer. Because I couldn’t imagine any other way to place myself in the proximity of art than to be an appendix of the creator. It’s complicated when you are a woman and you grow up without female role models around you, women who practice the craft that you want to practice. It’s complicated when you grow up in an environment where art is really low on the list of priorities. It’s complicated when you grow up during the transition years, when your family goes through economic crises, when you see that your parents are laid off and are struggling to find a job. Art then goes down to the bottom of the list of priorities. It is also complicated when you want to integrate in an industry which is always present at the most prestigious international film festivals, when there is pressure, both on your part and on the part of others, to rise to the same level of excellence as these male directors that you admire.

But they’re allowed to make more mistakes than women are allowed to.

Yes. If they once made a film that everyone likes or that won a big prize, they make up excuses for many things that they do, and critics are more lenient with them. If you have dared, like me, to approach grand topics which are traditionally reserved for intellectuals with overarching visions and heavy names, you are not permitted to have your experiments, your hesitations, your explorations. Or, conversely, if you make a film about a 35-year-old woman and her problems, you are considered frivolous or superficial. I really liked Ivana’s film (i.e. – Ivana Mladenovic, Ivana The Terrible, 2019), because it’s her I’m talking about. Her film made me realize how important it is for women’s life experiences to be represented on screen. Because we, women, do have different experiences than men do, and it’s important to see that on screen. And that’s why I think we need more access to money and production resources for women who want to make films, special distribution programmes to help those films reach as many viewers as possible. No one wants to steal the bread of male directors. They make great movies, and they deserve all the awards they receive. But female filmmakers need some support in order to create a tradition. Treating them with indifference, as often so happens, or disproportionately criticising them does not help anyone. I would like to see more films like Ivana’s in cinemas.

Film critic & journalist. Collaborates with local and international outlets, programs a short film festival - BIEFF, does occasional moderating gigs and is working on a PhD thesis about home movies. At Films in Frame, she writes the monthly editorial - The State of Cinema and is the magazine's main festival reporter.


Director/ Screenwriter