Andrei Cohn • Director of Arrest
“I was more interested in showing how it had been possible to cohabit, day after day, with this madness”
- We caught up with Romanian director Andrei Cohn, whose second feature, Arrest, was shown in the East of the West competition at Karlovy Vary
A month after its world premiere in the Romanian Days competition of the Transilvania International Film Festival, where it won the main award, Andrei Cohn presented his sophomore directorial effort, Arrest [+see also:
interview: Andrei Cohn
film profile], to an international audience in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival's East of the West section. Here is what he had to say about the challenges of exploring one of the darkest periods in the history of Romania, the communist 1980s.
Cineuropa: It seems this topic has been with you for a long time. How did it pique your interest?
Andrei Cohn: It is my second film on the topic. My first short film was called Before and After, and it was also about an arrest. It is an old interest of mine, although for many years I didn’t go back to exploring it. I’ve been trying to understand why it stayed with me for so long, and lately, it has started to be clearer. In 1989, I was a rebellious teenager, I used to listen to rock music, but simultaneously I accepted all the abuse [of the communist regime] without any kind of reaction. Most of us did the same. This is something I think we have to explore in one way or another. My main thought when making the film was not why I wanted to tell the story, but rather how I wanted to tell it. Finally, I somehow achieved it by taking personal responsibility and realising that I was as responsible for the situation as those bastards were. I think those years were created at a crossroads where the fearful met the villains. It is important that we acknowledge our own part in the story.
Do you think Romanian cinema has a certain reticence when it comes to acknowledging the past?
It is not my place to think for an entire industry or the arts in general. But I also think that when it comes to acknowledging the past, we as a nation expect others to do it before doing it ourselves. It’s like those stories where the author has no responsibility. The purpose of my efforts was to acknowledge my own past, but if I had to talk about Romanian cinema in general, I guess there is a somewhat distant stance on the topic. But my own goal was to exorcise this story from my mind.
And did you?
There are signs that I did. There were times when any reference to the topic woke me up and energised me as if a button had been pushed in my mind. Today, these stimuli do not have the same effect, and I personally think this is a sign of healing or of moving on.
Going back to the story, is it an approximation of any real cases? How did you write the screenplay?
The story is entirely fictitious. I was not interested in telling the story of a hero, but rather the story of an average man – so average that he does not succeed in standing up and fighting against the system. As for documentation, the first reflex is to go to the famous cases of political persecution, but I found myself gradually moving to other, related topics – for example, daily life in communist prisons. There is not actually enough information about those times. There was an academic interest in covering the so-called “demonic” years, the 1950s, but not so much in the 1980s. Rather, the documentation was of a parallel nature, not referring directly to a certain real-life case. It wouldn’t have been helpful for my film anyway, as I was more interested in showing how it had been possible to cohabit, day after day, with this madness.
With his part, Iulian Postelnicu has become the number-one villain in Romanian cinema…
Yes, after those menacing looks in Radu’s film [Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below [+see also:
interview: Radu Muntean
film profile]], he landed this part. The funny thing is that at first, I imagined an overweight actor for the character. I imagined a lad from the countryside, proud of his excessive weight. For a long time, I favoured this image of the character, but then I realised that the important thing was to find someone able to convey that peculiar psychology. I was simultaneously lucky and unlucky that they [Alexandru Papadopol and Iulian Postelnicu] have actually been very good friends for a very long time. This had its advantages, but also certain limitations when it came to the violence and abuse.
In very few Romanian films does the violence look as convincing as it does in Arrest. How did you achieve this?
Actually, we started out with the wrong approach to the choreography of the violence, mainly because at first, I didn’t want to just show things I had seen done somewhere else. Initially, I wanted to use a kind of make-believe violence, but then I received feedback from some stuntmen who tried to understand our intentions and teach us how not to get hurt on set. One particular scene was indeed a necessary tribute to violence. I didn’t want my movie to seem reluctant to show violence, but simultaneously, I didn’t want blood and violence to be the path to achieving emotion. Without the violence, the story would have been conventional, but excessive violence was never a particular purpose of mine. Even so, some people say it is too much, but I do not agree.
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