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Corneliu Porumboiu • Director

Talking 'bout a revolution


- "My film is on marginalisation, on that which took place in the small towns of my country the day everything changed"

Corneliu Porumboiu • Director

Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu (31), winner of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival Camera d’Or (the prestigious award for best debut film) has made one of the most original and intelligent comedies of recent years, 12:08 East of Bucharest [+see also:
film review
interview: Corneliu Porumboiu
interview: Daniel Burlac
film profile
. Convinced that "historical truth does not exist", he has created an ironic and biting portrait of contemporary Romania through the memories of that December 22 of 1989, the day of the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to make a film on the fall of Communism in Romania 16 years after the fact?
Corneliu Porumboiu: I was inspired by a television programme I saw six years ago and later chose to recount in this film: there were three people speaking on what happened at 12:08 on December 22, 1989, the time that dictator Ceausescu was broadcast fleeing and that was, therefore, the end of the Communist regime. I started laughing at the beginning of the programme, but then I became furious and turned off the television. I wanted the same thing to happen in my film.

Is this why you thought to make the film a comedy?
Yes, absolutely, because humour is a particularly important part of Romanian culture and of all the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe in general. The film captures that very visceral way of relating and discussing what took place that day. What were you doing that day?
I was playing ping-pong with a friend. I was 13. When I came home, I found my whole family gathered around the television set, like the entire country moreover, because at 12:08 on that day everyone was watching the end of Communism, live on television. It was a moment that changed our lives forever.

In the film, a debate takes place during a programme of a local TV station on whether a revolution actually took place that day: some say they took part in it, others that no one at all took to the streets before Ceausescu fled. Does this reflect an actual current debate in Romania?
My film is about marginalisation and appearances. I was attracted to the idea of seeing what took place in the country’s smaller towns. This is why I chose to shoot the film in my hometown. What you see in the film is the reality of where I grew up: Vaslui. There are people who tried to participate, to become part of history, like one of the characters, who claims he was part of the revolution. Yet the people who call in to the programme insist that he drinks and a hero cannot drink. His only friend is a foreigner, a Chinese man who defends and believes in him.

This debate took place while we researching the first draft of the screenplay: did we or did we not take part in this revolution? Each of the individuals present in my film gives his or her version of history, based on their own memories. Things change rapidly and there are various theories on what really happened. My film is on memory and how it changes history, on how each person remembers events from a different point of view. Historical reality does not actually exist.

How did you choose the actors?
I’ve known two of the lead actors since my school days, when I made several short films. I thought of them while writing the screenplay, whereas the third one in the group is a famous theatre actor, even though almost all of the cast works predominantly in the theatre. The film was shot very quickly. I would rewrite the scenes at night so that they would be more suited to the direction their performances were taking. It was very important to me that each of their lines be essential and necessary.

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