Gabriel Achim • Director
by Vladan Petkovic
08/06/2011 - The director/writer/producer talks about his debut feature Adalbert’s Dream, different filming formats as different ways of telling a story, satire in his film, and how Romanian history looks from today’s perspective.
Cineuropa: Is Adalbert's Dream [trailer, film focus] based on a true story?
Gabriel Achim: I read about a work accident in a big communist factory in the 1980s – a worker had lost a hand in the accident, and another worker who was asked to re-enact the event (it was common practice at that time) also lost his hand.
So this dark story was unfortunately real. But on the other hand, it seemed an excellent opportunity for me to write a script centered around the absurdity of those times. It was also a way of questioning and exploring my own findings about the “accidents” triggered by a film director when reconstructing realities.
Why did you choose to set your film in the period after the Chernobyl disaster and Steaua’s European Cup victory?
Undoubtedly, I could have placed the film action in our time, and most Romanians would have been happy with that – they have had enough of films about the communist period (although I think there are actually no more than around five films on this subject). But I am not one of those that believe the past has been “squeezed” of all its uneasiness.
The real story happened in the 1980s. I chose the day of 8 May 1986 because it was one of the most bizarre days in our recent history. The Chernobyl disaster had occurred two weeks before and people were still talking about its possible negative consequences. One day before 8 May 1986, Steaua Bucharest had won the European Champions Cup against FC Barcelona. People were thrilled about it, everybody was excited because nobody believed that Steaua could win against the giants of Barcelona in their homeland! On the other hand, 8 May was the official anniversary day of the Communist Party, so authorities were striving to redirect the general enthusiasm towards this festivity. In canteens, theatres, schools and so on, everybody had to take part in the festivities dedicated to the Communist Party. To give you an idea about the atmosphere, the sports newspaper of the time had only a tiny text mentioning the final score and the players of both teams on its last page. That was all there was about this fantastic victory, all the other pages were dedicated to the party!
Without any exaggeration, it was one of the rare events that gave hope to the common people living during the communist regime: hope that the impossible, an escape from the moral and political inferno, was in fact possible.
Why did you choose to include so many dialogue set-pieces?
I think it’s not only a matter of text, but also of texture. The texture of the film medium became a special theme of interest for several reasons. The story revolves around the clandestine VCR that the protagonist is carrying with him to watch the big victory of Steaua together with his workmates. We tried to reconstruct the monochromatic and ruthless reality of the communist 1980s on VHS in a documentary-like approach, and to deconstruct the collective psyche of its people. Additionally, the protagonist is a film-maker and samples of his work are present in the film.
Concerning text, my personal perception of the 1980s in Romania was that things were happening exclusively in small private enclaves. We would live passively, hear many stories, and never could tell apart the fine border between reality and fictional narratives. Moreover, time would seem to run in slow-motion, and the only “entertainment” left was telling/listening to endless stories or jokes. There was only one TV station in the country, which was on air for two hours a day, with all of its programming dedicated to Ceausescu’s 'accomplishments'.
How is satire on Ceausescu and early post-Ceauşescu times looked upon in Romania, particularly in the New Wave Romanian films?
More and more Romanians have become nostalgic about communism. They tend to think it was a good idea that was badly implemented. Satire is one of the most efficient antidotes to forgetting and has a universal function in the film, as it transcends the particular history it talks about.