Bogdan Mustata talks to Vladan Petkovic about his debut feature Wolf, which played in Competition at Sarajevo.

Romanian director Bogdan Mustata brought his first feature film project Wolf to the CineLink Plus section of Sarajevo Film Festival’s co-production market in 2010 and won the Eurimages development prize worth €30,000. Now he returned to the festival with the completed film playing in the Competition.

The €1m psychological drama about the titular teenage boy [Mihai Vasilescu] and his inability to accept his father’s death and the new reality this brought, while at the same time trying to adapt to his developing sexuality, was co-produced by Romania’s Strada Film and Germany’s Neue Road Movies with backing from the Romanian National Film Centre, German Federal Film Fund and the country’s regional funds MDM and MBB, Torino Film Lab, Eurimages and MEDIA, with participation of the Romanian national broadcaster.

How long did it take you to make the film and what were the biggest obstacles?

In a way, the biggest problem for not only the production, but for the whole film, was duration of each part on working on it: four years of writing, a shooting which took longer than it was planned, and a very, very long post-production. Maybe the reason was my lack of experience or it was unavoidable due to the nature of the project.

Instead of time and space unity, in this film you have a surreal mixture of contradictions- reality, imagination, wishful thinking, memories, ideas of past and future, chronological (dis)order… It is often hard to tell what’s real and what’s in Wolf’s head. How did you go about writing, shooting and then editing this complicated set-up?

We had so many different versions of editing and enough footage for a 150-minute film. It was rather exhausting. But all of that was intended for the audience to reach the moment when they are not able to tell what’s happening in reality and what’s in Wolf’s head.  

I wanted to build another, special world with the film where these contradictions  (for example real/imaginary) are fully present. It was the only possible way to  communicate our vision to the audience. I can’t find any truth in either of these concepts, these opposite sides of the contradictions, but I think it’s possible to get to the point where you accept this world if you dive in between them. This way the spectator can go along with the idea that, for example, presence of Clara in the old man’s apartment can be both real and in Wolf’s imagination.

I didn’t have a method when it comes to writing and other stages of the creative process. Many things came only from experience, guts, beliefs… Simply, from the way I am. Many things definitely were not  (and some are still not) condensed in my head as coherent ideas.

Wolf as a character has a very limited number of lines that he speaks. Instead he is going around and hearing what other people (real or imagined, alive or deceased) are saying and reacting upon it.

I have the same problem as Wolf with finding the truth in words. And this is an issue I’ve been fighting with for a long time. So it was normal that I was instinctively using as few words as possible for Wolf and the other characters. Initially, Wolf wasn’t supposed to utter a single word. As for the moments where I wanted to have dialogue, I tried to go over the top, to make it more dramatic, sort of like what Marguerite Duras does with dialogues.

The casting is interesting, on one hand you have the first-timer Mihai Vasilescu playing the main character, and on the other, Ada Condeescu in a role similar to a certain level to the one she had in Loverboy.

Mihai was 16 when we shot, he is still in high school. He is part of the theatre group organized in his school. So, he was interested in acting but had no experience.  

While working with Ada we didn’t see Loverboy as a starting point for her character. We started from scratch. In working with the actors I had tremendous  help from choreographer Iulia Weiss who did a very good and interesting job regarding their physical expressiveness. She worked very closely with Ada in the rehearsal period.

What does the world premiere at Sarajevo mean to you?

It means intense exposure for me. I’ve been to the festival many times before and I know the quality and importance of the people that I will be exposed to. And I hope the selection in the competition means that the film didn’t disappoint those who helped the project. But the most important thing is that the film has found its own path. This sounds like a cliché, but it practically means that I can go back to writing.