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Constantin Popescu • Director

“I knew it was a difficult challenge”

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Constantin Popescu • Director

Constantin Popescu's Portrait of the Fighter as a Young Man [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
recently screened in competition at the Bratislava International Film Festival, where the director spoke to Cineuropa.org. The film, about anti-communist partisans in Romania, had its world premiere in the Berlinale Forum section in February.

Cineuropa: How did you become interested in the anti-communist resistance in Romania?
Constantin Popescu: In 2004, my producer told me about a book [of memoirs of former partisans] that he had read at the time. Then I met the vice-president of the association of former political detainees in Romania. At first I didn't want to make the movie because I knew almost nothing about that time. But after reading the book of memoirs, I decided to do it. I used some stories from the memoirs, but most of the stories came from the Securitate archives.

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I worked about two years [on the script]. One year I just never left home — I just read and made notes. The script was ready in November 2007. Then I began the casting and pre-production. We began principle photography on May 15, 2008.

Where did you shoot the film?
When possible, we shot in the places mentioned in the memoirs and archives. Some little towns, some villages do not exist anymore, so we had to go somewhere else. We shot in the centre of Romania, in an area called the Făgăraş Mountains, but not only there. We also shot near Bucharest, and near two central towns in Romania, Brasov and Sibiu.

How did you finance the production?
Financing came from the Romanian National Film Center and Filmex, which is the production house that my father and I own. Later on, some money came from HBO Romania, Abis Studio, where we did post-production, and from McCann Erickson Romania.

Historically, how many partisans were there?
The archives I studied show about 110,000 people were involved in the partisan movement, forming about 1,600 groups of partisans. But people from some villages helped them a lot, so they were considered, when arrested, as forming part of the group also. By my calculation, a quarter of a million is the correct number.

Your film features some black-and-white footage, which is purportedly 8mm film the partisans shot of themselves. Did such footage actually exist?
The partisans took quite a lot of pictures of themselves, some of which were published. I tried to find as much pictures as possible. One former Securitate officer, a very old gentleman, told me that there was such footage — there was just one small reel, he said — but I could not find it. So let's call it directorial license.

How has the film been received so far?
I knew it was a difficult challenge. Berlin audiences received the movie okay, and the German critics were alright, but some American critics destroyed the film. Some of what they said was correct, but I think they misunderstood what I tried to do. In terms of technicalities, I agree with most of what they wrote. Where I do not agree is in terms of meaning. I know this is a difficult film for a Western European audience to understand. But for us in Romania, I hope it will mean a lot.

What about audiences in Romania?
I've only had two screenings in Romania. One was at the 6th Bucharest International Film Festival in April, where it won the Audience Award and Best Cinematography. It also screened at the 10th Transylvania International Film Festival in Cluj. Voodoo Films, the distribution division of Cristian Mungiu's Mobra Films, will release it in seven or eight cities on November 19.

And what further projects are you developing?
Elisabeta Rizea will be a historical portrait of a woman who was in prison for 12 years for helping the partisans. I would like to begin shooting next year, probably in winter. Then I would like to make a third one about another group of partisans, the Arnăuţoiu brothers, but this is a delicate subject and more difficult to make. First of all, I would like to have a meeting with the daughter of Toma Arnăuţoiu and Maria Plop, who still lives today in London. I would have to talk to her before making this movie because that would be the correct thing to do, and find out if she's okay with it.

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