By Martin Kudláč.
The Romanian writer-director-producer Andrei Cretulescu rolled out his first feature-length offering Charleston at the biggest Swiss showcase in Locarno. The film continued to tread the festival circuit and made a stop-over in Warsaw where Film International caught up with the filmmaker. Diverging from the aesthetics of the New Romanian wave, Cretulescu crafted a stylized film in bight colors revolving around a deceased woman and an encounter of her husband and her secret lover. The central characters could not be more different from one another; however, they embark on a therapeutic journey to face their sorrow and amend their personality flaws in a darkish bromedy. Film International sat down with Andrei Cretulescu to talk about his feature debut, Charlton Heston, Adrian Sitaru and graduating from a film critic to a filmmaker.
After Ramona, you returned to male-dominated narrative in Charleston you featured in shorts Bad Penny and Kowalski. Why is that?
Well, the idea for Charleston predates the trilogy of short films that you mentioned by almost a decade. And I actually did feel strange while in pre-production and even during shooting – I was making the film I dreamt of making, but something was indeed missing.
Charleston is an unconventional and post-mortal love letter to the female character that is present only for a brief time in the beginning. Why did you decide to work around the lines of a romance in your feature debut?
A spot on definition – hence the relation with the previous question. I never set out to make a romance. Not in the classical sense – neither was I afraid of doing so. The love story that’s at the core of the film is inspired by my mother – also, the main character is named after her, and actually the whole film is dedicated to her. I just wanted to tell a story that hopefully moves people. I think emotion is something that’s sorely missing from our filmmaking landscape.
At a certain moment, there was this trend of bromance in the mainstream U.S. comedy. Charleston sort of shares some features of a bromance, a homosocial comedy about two stereotypically antagonistic males that eventually gravitate towards each other. Do you perceive Charleston as a bromance?
I remember the trend, some wonderful things came from that – The Duplass Brothers, to give just a shout out. If you perceive L’emmerdeur or Midnight Run, or Preparez vos mouchoirs as bromances, then we can call Charleston a bromance too.
The staple of exported Romanian cinema became the bleak and grim aesthetics of New Romanian Wave. On the contrary, Charleston extricates from the Puiu´s, Porumboiu´s and Muntean´s strand and is a stylized and thoughtfully composed film. Why?
I don’t know if it extricates that much – there is a lot of talking in Charleston.… Anyway, it was nothing deliberate – I just felt that this kind of aesthetics would serve the story better and I wanted, since the very beginning, to try and emulate the technicolor of Powell and Pressburger. Malina Ionescu, our production designer, and Barbu Balasoiu, our director of photography, were very excited – and it shows.
What is your relation to Romanian cinema and how it influences you or did influence you?
We’re very close. I’ve seen his best of times, I’ve seen his worst of times, I think it taught me things I must absolutely try to do, and things I should absolutely never even think about doing.
Why did you decide to pit against each other mourning and denial and anger in Charleston as personified by the leading two male characters?
I think it makes a contrast that is both challenging and moving. I think we shouldn’t be afraid of showing who we really are and how we really feel – at least from time to time.
Why is Edward Hopper a reference for visual side of Charleston?
Aside from being one of the most fascinating artists to ever walk the Earth, I happen to love all those directors – Sirk, Kaurismaki, Wenders, Almodovar – that are obviously influenced by him and obviously influenced me.
You present an idealized Bucharest in your film. Why?
This Bucharest did exist at one point – even I, in my childhood in the 70s, could catch a glimpse, here and there. It’s almost all gone now – and it physically hurts when I walk the streets, especially in the old neighborhood. Since everything about Charleston has a retro feel and look, the idealized Bucharest felt just about right.
The title refers to a dance but there are also multiple references to Charl(ton He)ston. What is the special meaning of the Hollywood star?
The Charlton Heston references were there from the beginning – he was one of my mother’s favorite actors, but she was never quite sure if he was a great star or a great thespian. He always felt like the embodiment of masculinity for me – and that came in handy since we are in such male-dominated territory.
If I am not mistaken Charleston was called Charlton Heston while in the development. Why did you change the title?
Indeed it was. We opted for Charleston because it felt less obvious. Also, one of the particularities of the dance is that you must switch partners.
You use different types of male stereotype, the macho type and the geek one. Why did you opt for these two particular archetypes? Does it refer to sort of yin-yang constitution of male psyche?
Yes, I believe so. I always thought of them as two faces of the same coin – and I was very lucky that these amazing actors, Serban Pavlu and Radu Iacoban, felt the same way. I think if you add them up you get the perfect package…okay, I know, nobody’s perfect.
Adrian Titieni is a sort of court actor of Adrian Sitaru’s films. How and why did you cast him in Charleston?
I happen to love Adrian ever since I saw him on stage some 25 years ago. I just couldn’t see anybody else for the bartender’s role – so I had a small whisky, called him up and said, “Look, I have this tiny part, and I would love you to do it.” He said, “no such thing as a tiny part” – and he did it, and we had an amazing time. And this goes for all the other actors – there was no casting, no try-outs, I just called all the actors I had in mind and, much to my surprise and delight, they all said yes. We did have a casting for the cat, though.
Do you like Adrian Sitaru´s films?
Very much so – I still think The Cage is one of the best short films, period. Adrian is a good friend – we read each other’s scripts, we watch each other’s rough cuts – not that I dare comparing myself to him – and we talk a lot. We both love Raymond Carver, by the way.
You started as a film critic, then work as a creative producer for HBO Romania and ended up being writer-director. Can you briefly summarize the trajectory and the decision that led to change the main preoccupation? How did being a film critic help you to become filmmaker?
I started as a film reviewer in the early 90s – back then I didn’t think there was a better way to express my love for cinema. I became a film critic about the same time I got a job at HBO Romania – being a writer/producer for the OnAir department, meaning making trailers and promos and all that stuff.
Again, I thought nothing better could ever happen to me – I was “draped” in movies both at home and at work. Later, I became head of the OnAir department – and I learned editing, which was a huge help in terms of understanding the language of cinema and later it of course informed even my writing.
When HBO started original productions I became creative producer – and again, I learned and learned every day. I still do, by the way. After 12 years at HBO, I started my own production company, Kinosseur, together with my wife and partner/producer, Codruta – six years later we have seven shorts and two features completed, with one short and two features in development.
Obviously, this was never the plan – but, looking back, it all seems to naturally fit. And yes – being a film critic gave me the courage to do what I’m doing now – without that, seeing that I never went to film school, and without the friends who believed in me from the start, I would have never dared to catch this train.
You mentioned you are currently working on two ultra-violent projects. Can you briefly introduce them and reveal why the ultra-violence is key to them?
The first one is called Jeux sans frontieres – it’s a “huis-clos” with ten characters stranded in a remote cabin in the mountains during a heavy snow storm. The second one is called Kowalski – a spin-off of my short from 2014. I think the violence is what defines us these days – and we have to face it and somehow exorcize it. Look around: chaos reigns.
Martin Kudláč is a freelance film journalist and independent scholar contributing regularly to a variety of outlets. He holds PhD in Aesthetics and is an external lecturer and researcher at The Institute of Literary and Art Communication at Constantine the Philosopher University at Nitra, Slovakia; a film industry reporter; and co-author of the upcoming book Images of the Hero in the Cultural Memory (Constantine the Philosopher University Press).