"I don’t want to make only one kind of films"
by Stefan Dobroiu
28/07/2011 - After his first feature, Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man, shown at the Berlinale in 2010, Constantin Popescu is making a complete change of style with his second project, Principles of Life [trailer, film focus], which he loved since he first read the script, because "it had exactly the right amount of words".
Cineuropa: The film displays a real U-Turn compared with The Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man. You’ve crossed from an ensemble cast to one main actor, from shooting over more than one season to filming in a few weeks, from large spaces and predominance of nature to interiors and city streets. How was the transition?
Constantin Popescu: The story reached me when I was making The Portrait…. I decided to go ahead with it because I really enjoyed it. The two films are very different, no doubt about it. I don’t know how to describe this transition. I don’t think I am a very good screenwriter, I have limits that I honestly recognise, so I prefer to work with someone else’s screenplay or to write it with a more experienced screenwriter. I find this more comfortable, it’s way more helpful for me to imagine an already written story.
I thought Principles of Life was just perfect. You remember that in Milos Forman's Amadeus, one of the reproaches was that Mozart's music had "too many notes". This screenplay didn’t have too many words, it had exactly the right amount. Each movie has its own life, each story must be told in its own way. I don’t want to make only one kind of films, you have to find the right value of each subject. I liked Principles of Life just the way it was, and, to be completely honest, I could have used a break after all the struggle I had writing The Portrait…. It was a pleasure for me to return to what I love doing, directing, choosing little details, the small things.
Vlad Ivanov has his first leading role in Principles of Life. How did you choose him?
Vlad Ivanov was my choice from the very beginning, he was the man I had in mind. I simply thought the screenplay was written for him. There were some other options and we had a sort of casting, because not everyone in the team was sure Vlad is the perfect choice. To please them all I decided to organize a casting session, thinking I lost my hand and maybe Vlad is not the right choice. Anyway, this was just wasted time because you know the result. I’m really happy with my choice, because Vlad carried the film beautifully, actually the whole work rested on his shoulders.
What do you think about the main character, Velicanu?
Velicanu is unpredictable. He changes suddenly. He tries to do things calmly, gets angry a minute later, realizes he's made a mistake and pedalled too hard, he comes back, does a pirouette. He reacts differently to the persons he comes in contact with. He’s humble, friendly, malleable, arrogant, pedantic, all one after another. And, naturally, uncaring and tough in the most unexpected moments.
The art direction really captures the essence of the character. You can see him getting dressed in the kitchen – he doesn’t have a personal space. He tried to make a home with the first wife...it didn’t work out. He started over: another house (and a villa this time), a big car, but he doesn’t have his own room. His space is invaded by his son and the kitchen is also a dressing room. He hasn't found his own space and I thought it was great to see him getting dressed there, in such an inappropriate place. He acts first and subsequently thinks about his actions, even if in his mind he’s always saying "this is what we have decided, this is what we’re doing".
What's next for you?
I want to finish the trilogy I started with The Portrait... I'm currently writing the screenplay for the film based on Elisabeta Rizea's life, another fighter against the communist regime, but I'm far from finished. I would like to take a break, because it's really tiring to read so much about torture sessions and questionings. I will try to shoot next year in winter, but I'm still thinking about it. I also work on a new script about the ‘Pitesti experiment’ (communist authorities torture and "re-educate" thousands of anti-communist students in 1948), another hideous story. I want to present the events as sincerely as possible, as we really need a honest film about what happened then.