I see that the screenplay for The Tube with a Hat was written by Florin Lazarescu. Did you and the screenwriter approach the producer, Ada Solomon, to get this project rolling or did things happen in an entirely different way?
Well, it's quite a long story. While a student in a Romanian film school (a terrible school, actually), I started working as an assistant director. I had the luck to be on the set of some interesting films, like Amen by Costa Gavras and, even more important for me, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu by Cristi Puiu. I met Ada Solomon, the producer, while working on an American feature film shot in Romania - she was the production manager from the Romanian side. After a while she created her own small production company and when I had the project ready, I invited her to be the producer. She accepted and we tried to find the money for the film. It was very difficult, we couldn't find private investors and our national film center rejected the project. A year went by, and I was ready to make the film by borrowing money from some people, but finally we won in another round of the film center contest.
What was it in particular that appealed to you in the screenplay? And did you make any major changes, either before the shoot or at a later point?
In 2004, I read the script by accident and I loved it. What I loved about it is that the screenplay is about many things at the same time, without being confusing. I think it's a story about poverty, about hope, about sacrifice, about everyday life, about parenthood, about communication. The screenplay also made me remember a lot of things from my own childhood, when I was living at my grandparents, in the countryside. Then I met Florin Lazarescu (he's a young writer living in Iasi, a city far from Bucharest, where I live) and he told me that the story is autobiographical, it happened to him as depicted now in the film, more or less. Because we didn't find the money for the film, we had a lot of time. So I was working on the script, alone or together with Florin. Finally, the script changed a bit, we added some scenes, we took out other ones and I changed some of the dialogues in the shooting process.
Which were the scenes that you added in the film - scenes that were not present in the screenplay? And can you say a word or two about why these extra scenes were needed?
We made some small changes in many scenes, mostly regarding the dialogue. We added a few scenes and we did this for different reasons. For instance, there's a moment when the characters are taking the bus. That wasn't in the original script. But we found out that even the most isolated regions of Romania have bus shuttles. Not in every village, maybe, but there are some main roads around villages that have shuttles. So, in order to be truthful regarding the actual reality, we added the bus scene. The other added scene was the one happening in the TV repairs shop. The reason was that, if we didn't show the inside of that shop, it would have been like an intention to hide things. It would have been "too cool" not to show that place. And since we didn't want to provoke the viewer in a shallow way, we decided to shoot that scene. So the main reason here was that we wanted to show everything, not to hide some things in order to get some artificial dramatic effect.
Can you tell me anything about your casting of Gabriel Spahiu and Marian Bratu in the two main roles?
I was thinking of Spahiu to be the father in the first place. I gave him the script, he liked it, so everything was fine. After I got the financing in place, I said to myself that I have to be serious and professional, that I should do a real casting and not take the first actor that comes into my head. So I told Spahiu that I'm sorry, but I decided to make a casting. He was a gentleman, didn't get upset and agreed to come to the casting. I saw a lot of actors and finally realized that my first choice was still the best. All that casting was just a waste of time and energy.
Marian, the kid, is another story. I have seen, probably, around 600 kids from the countryside schools. I noticed Marian somewhere in the process, but he was very quiet. He was extremely shy, looked down all the time, and barely spoke. Then I found out he has a terrible situation at home, he's from a very poor family with millions of problems. But still, I liked his obvious sensitivity and I liked his eyes. I showed the casting tape to some people and everybody said it would be crazy to take Marian, because he seemed unable to speak. So I started meeting with him often and little by little, he became more open and I discovered a very intelligent and sensitive kid, with an incredible sense of humor. Meeting him was actually, for me, the best thing from this film. I still try to help him. I cast him in a commercial and I will cast him again when I'll have the chance.
There is an interesting discussion of The Tube with a Hat by Anca Mitroi in Lingua Romana, and some of my questions will take statements she made as a point of departure. I would like to quote a beautiful sentence in her piece and ask you to comment on it: "If the ugliness of the landscape and the vulgarity of the language are shocking, The Tube with a Hat is nevertheless a delicate, sensitive and ironic film, in which a subtle beauty fleetingly emerges from the mire of a mindless world" (my translation from the French). Would you agree with this characterization of your film?
I agree with any positive characterization of my film! Well, I think human beings are the same everywhere and, despite the background of our lives, we all are a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And if love is a part of the beauty, then it means that showing the mechanisms of love between a boy and his father equals expressing some of this beauty.
Another important point Mitroi makes is that your film is free from pathos. Yet it is also moving. I am thinking in particular of the shot in which the boy - who has just been told that Bichescu didn't have the necessary tube - turns away from his father and leans his forehead against the wall, with the back of his head toward the camera. No tears to film, no pain in the boy's face for the camera to catch. And yet all the more moving for the visually understated way in which the boy is filmed. Your comments on that point?
Well, it was a quick decision taken at the shoot. The boy could cry, but when I saw a rehearsal I discovered that the face of a kid crying, at least in that particular situation, was too much. It was pure pornography. So Marius Panduru (the director of photography) and I found this solution of filming him from the back. And in this way the scene not only became more honest, but I discovered that it became more subtle: it's not very clear if the kid really cries or if he's making a scene like a spoiled boy.
Mitroi also drew a parallel between The Tube with a Hat and Polanski's Two Men and a Wardrobe. Were you at all influenced by Polanski's early masterpiece and do you agree that there are some parallels between the two films?
Honestly, although the comparison could be flattering, I think it's a shallow parallel. Indeed, both films show two people carrying a heavy load. But I think the parallel stops here, because the style, the story, the intentions of the authors are very different.
If I were to reveal some influences I would point to the Italian neorealist films, with their desire to "show life as it is," as Zavattini put it. I've been also influenced by Cristi Puiu, for whom I worked as assistant director. I consider my main influence the work of Yasujiro Ozu, although I know I am very far from being that good. What I love in all of Ozu's films is not only his style and his stories, but above all the melancholy tenderness expressed towards his characters, towards life actually. And I think this attitude, pessimistic and hopeless, but at the same time calm and distant and humorous, reveals some kind of truth about our life.
I was very impressed by a statement you yourself made about The Tube with a Hat: "Directing this film, my main concern was to tell the story as honestly as possible. I didn't make any moral judgment about the characters, their actions and the world they live in. I only wanted to understand them, and to reveal their humanity." Could I ask you to elaborate a bit more on the absence of a judgmental perspective within the film?
I think that cinema has this quality, to see things from a certain distance, a quality which can offer to a viewer the possibility of looking at something told in an objective way and to form his/her own opinion. I also think this applies to all cinema, documentary and fiction. So when the world or the people inside the film are judged by the author, the freedom of the viewer is more limited and he can reject the film, because if he is observant he can feel that he is being cheated, he can see that somebody wants to force him to have a particular feeling, an opinion, etc. That's why I think it's necessary, in a narrative film at least, to be honest, to put yourself in the position of somebody who wants to understand the world in the film, not in the position of somebody who knows everything and teaches the viewers like a professor. As a side note, I must add that it's obvious that there's no real objectivity in film, or in any other art. Any decision carries with it the potential to manipulate. What I am saying applies more to the attitude that the artist should have when doing his work.
The Tube with a Hat is extremely successful, picking up numerous festival awards. Is there anything, despite this amazing track record of your film, that you now wish you had done any differently in making this film?
There's maybe an interesting thing about the success of this film. When I finished it, I started to send it to film festivals. First of all, because for a short film this is the way it can be seen. Secondly, because I received money for the film from a public fund, so I felt responsible for spending that money and I thought that festival exposure would prove that the money was wisely spent. But the first six or seven festivals rejected the film. I felt very depressed, I thought I had made a film that nobody wanted to see. Then, little by little, the film was selected by approx. 100 festivals, some of them considered very important, and received around 30 awards until now. What's funny is that some of the festivals who rejected the film a year ago are inviting it this year, pretending that the rejection was caused by administrative problems.
Success is good, but it shouldn't be the engine for wanting to have this profession. I always remember that the films of Ozu were never selected by important festivals. And he's a huge artist.
I cannot conceive of making the film once more. I wouldn't do the film again even if, let's say, all the copies and tapes, etc. were lost. The experience of making the film is, for me, more important than the finished film. If I were to do it again, I wouldn't make it better, that's for sure, because the mistakes in the film are, in a strange way, a part of the film. They shouldn't be removed.
Is there any advice you would give student filmmakers about to make their own first short films?
Well, I'm not really in the position to give advice to others. I still need advice myself. But I was in a film school, and after the experience of making some bad films there, I can try to say what I think somebody in that position should do. First of all, to be honest, to make films he believes in 100%, to have the courage of making the films he wants to make, not what others expect of him. Then, not to think of success or failure. If what you do is honest, it doesn't really matter if the film has success or not. I think Cassavetes said that one should expect failure, not success, because the probability of making a bad film is much bigger than that of making a good film. So relax and have fun and try to learn something from the experience of making a film.
24 August 2007
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