Romanian director on the tricky production behind his feature debut.
Romanian filmmaker and actor Emanuel Pârvu’s - whose roles in front of the camera include Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation - is presenting his debut feature as a director, MEDA Or The Not So Bright Side Of Things, in competition at Sarajevo Film Festival this week.
The drama follows Doru, a lumberjack in a remote and poor rural region, who has to fight for custody over adopted daughter Meda after his wife dies.
This requires dealing with corrupt authorities and competitive local community where legal ways of earning money are scarce, so Doru may have to step onto the wrong side of law.
MEDA Or The Not So Bright Side Of Things premieres tonight (Aug 15) and plays again tomorrow (Aug 16).
Screen: You shot this film at an authentic, on-location village setting. Was that a production challenge?
Emanuel Pârvu: Originally the script was written for the action to take place in the Danube Delta. But when you go on water the production becomes much more difficult and we didn’t have the needed money to shoot it.
Instead, I took the story to land. The real houses, the real environment were a must for our movie. The houses were only designed in the interior, and we had to have a village where there was only a single paved road. After scouting, I found this village near a forest, in the middle of nowhere - not only geographically but in the sense of society too.
What were the biggest production challenges?
The main problem was the weather and the mud. The production was extremely difficult due to the fact that we couldn’t get to the shooting locations with production cars, so we had to get the equipment there by hand.
It rained every night and the land was wet. It’s difficult to have a warm meal for 60 people in the middle of the night in a forest on a mountain top, when the nearest city was 40 kilometres away, and the temperature is -12 degrees centigrade.
I did a lot of rehearsals, four months’ worth with actors, because we only had 24 days of shooting and we knew that everyone had to know to the smallest detail what they had to do so we could finish in time.
The film is set in a very tough environment, where people seem to treat each other quite badly. But your main character is different…
Doru is quite different from the people in his community. The rules of the corrupted society he is a part of make him feel trapped.
His actions become more and more desperate and he is always one step behind. When he finally understands that he should follow the rules, it may be too late.
It is indeed a very tough environment and they truly live a hard life, which can sometimes be seen in the way that they behave.
Where did the idea for this film come from?
I’ve had the story in my mind for some years. I observed the life of a child taken from an orphanage - the more you observe the struggle from both sides (foster carer and child) to stay together, the deeper you understand that sometimes feelings cannot be expressed, and that facing your own actions can become more and more difficult.
From my perspective, it’s not fair that the future of a child can be decided through laws that are enforced in a certain manner and do not account for the child’s feelings and desires.
Most of your actors are known from recent Romanian films, like Şerban Pavlu from Aferim! and Adrian Titieni from Graduation. How did you cast them?
Usually, I don’t do castings. I have to know from the beginning who plays the part so I can write it for a specific person.
I have to know the actor, how he walks, the way he talks, the way he reacts, so I can write adequate words.
Usually I know who I want to work with. Spending time with them just talking helps me decide which character or which type of character suits them the most and what type of dialogue to write.
Before I have the final version of the script - which in this case came after 13 drafts - I work with actors while writing so that they can bring more than just personal input to the part.
What’s your take on the current situation in the Romanian film industry, especially exhibition-wise?
In a country where the minimum wage is €320 a month, going to the cinema is a privilege (a multiplex admission is €5). I think the state-run cinemas should be revived, so that people can have access to cinema not only in the big cities, but everywhere.
I think without a state support and proper legislation, Romanian cinema’s achievements could soon be history.