How the Securitate enrolled minors: First a play, then a film
In 2011, I spent a few months going through files at the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) because I was interested in how each of them was built up, but also because I was trying to figure out what this “collective novel” with so many authors – Securitate officers and collaborators – would mean today. It resulted in the play “X mm out of Y km”.
In 2012, I then learned of Mugur Călinescu’s case from Marius Oprea’s book “Șase feluri de a muri” (Six Ways of Dying). I wanted to read the original file. At first, I was mostly interested in the phenomenon of enrolling high school pupils as collaborators in the 1980s, because I had learned, from discussions with experts in Romania and abroad, that they were surprisingly numerous here, while in other Eastern European countries enrolling minors was more of an exception. I chose Mugur Călinescu’s case because his file had both references to the phenomenon of enrolling minors and because I found it interesting that even through the highly standardised language, something shines through: Mugur’s story is that of a 16-year-old in a small town who, coming up against an oppressive mechanism that gradually cuts him off from friends and family, still manages to convey, even in his statements under interrogation (obviously constricted by standard formulae), signs of free thinking at a time when people were afraid of their own thoughts. (Gianina Cărbunariu)
I saw Gianina’s play “Tipografic Majuscul“ sometime in 2012 and I remember speaking to Șerban Pavlu about how a film inspired by the same case would never work. We both thought a film based on the play would only add to the long list of anti-Communist films – which are necessary, but mostly either excessive, or bad, or both, despite their good intentions.
But I kept thinking of the play and I suppose the decision to turn it into a film ties in with my increased interest for archives, developed after seeing the play. In retrospect, I find that what Gianina managed to do isn’t just a theatrical success, but also very close to how I myself am interested in using archive materials to build up some of my films.
I’d just about had enough of my own ideas and wanted to make a film that would be a genuine collaboration, to make a different start. If the film looks quite a bit different from what I’ve done so far, it is also due to this collaboration, this different starting point. (Radu Jude)
Working with archival material
The rehearsals were quite different from the usual process of making a play. For one month, I read and discussed the 200 pages of the file with the actors, while stage work took about three weeks. That was because I wanted all of us to have a common language. We were artists from different generations – some of us, like the actress Cătălina Mustață, were born in the same year as Mugur Călinescu and had had direct contact with that reality, but there were others, such as myself or Gabriel Răuță, we were both 12 in 1989, or younger colleagues who were only a few years old at the time of the Revolution. So our experiences were rather different.
I made a selection of the material, picked a chronological order (because documents don’t always follow a timeline in the file) and chose a dramaturgy based on restructuring the texts, imagining potential situations in which they were produced, but without adding a single word.
We were not interested in a faithful “re-enactment” of the case or its period. This is a play that tries to push the limits of a document and of theatrical production at the same time: is such a document a trustworthy “trace”? And who is the author of this type of “dramatic” text, those who gave the statements, those who requested them, those who transcribed recorded conversations, the Securitate as an oppressive system, we who “rewrite” it all with theatrical means? (Gianina Cărbunariu)
I kept Gianina’s ideas and questions for the film, adding a few extra elements from the same file. The criterion for choosing the TV archive materials that break up the narration was chronological. In other words, I looked for footage broadcast by the national television at the time when Mugur Călinescu’s story was unfolding, only abdicating from this principle two or three times – in the national television archive (where materials are less than perfectly indexed), I came upon things that were so good, so to the point, that I kept them. After all, they belong to the same period, they are already history – remaining traces. (Radu Jude)
Montage instead of collage
Gianina took a Securitate file, chose fragments from it and made a collage. By putting together the documents (and dramatising them here and there), she created a story, a coherent narrative construction. Of course, this narration can be questioned in many aspects – and it has been done, I believe, or should be done by historians, theatre critics, and so on.
What I decided to do beyond what Gianina did (or, rather, not beyond, but differently) was replacing the collage with montage. I use the word “montage” in the meaning Sergei Eisenstein gives it. Put briefly, the main idea is that joining two pictures through montage can generate a third, formed in the mind of the viewer, whose meaning results from the juxtaposition of the two pictures and is absent from either one of them, being born only through their joining.
Eisenstein was, of course, referring to cinema, but the golden age of montage is right now: anyone who sees a meme on the internet actually sees, most times, a variant of Eisensteinian montage. (To pick a random example: the stupid meme in which a photo of Romanian President Iohannis is put next to a picture of Hitler, generating the idea that Iohannis is a Nazi. The idea is absent from either of the two pictures, and only appears when they are put together.)
That was more or less what I tried to do – systematically breaking up Gianina’s story (her collage) and turning it into a work of montage, in which each picture collides with another and their joining generates new ideas for the public.
Of course, meanings are not as easily found as in internet memes; I would say this is essentially a poetic approach, if we take poetry as Malraux saw it: “All true poetry is no doubt irrational insofar as it substitutes a new system of relations for the ‘established’ relations between things.” I believe montage is not just a way of poetising, but a very serious way (though it should be used with caution, as it can easily lead to fakes or propaganda of various sorts) of understanding and constructing history. Besides, this procedure has made the film highly accessible and entertaining, from my point of view: it doesn’t just tell the story of Mugur Călinescu as pieced together by Gianina from his Securitate file, but offers hundreds of other small stories. (Radu Jude)
Opinion of each other’s work
I think the film asks some extra questions, sprung from using a different language, different instruments of artistic exploration specific to cinema in general and Radu Jude as a director in particular. This is not a film about “a story”; it “blows up” the story by using archive materials more diverse than the ones in the play. The selection and use of visual references from the national television archive, along with micro-scenes from the file and statements of former Securitate officers, generates multiple layers of meaning and brings up questions about the seen and unseen parts of society, about the ambiguity of any archive, about the feelings of nostalgia and anti-nostalgia we sometimes experience simultaneously. (Gianina Cărbunariu)
I admire Gianina Cărbunariu not only for the subjects she picks, but also for her mise en scène. I’m the kind of spectator who cares about the form as well, and Gianina usually comes up with formal proposals that I find highly interesting. There is a moment in “Tipografic Majuscul” that I wanted to replicate in the film, but it wouldn’t have been as powerful and amusing as it is in the play: the one in which the characters, all of them teachers participating in the meeting to destroy Mugur Călinescu, humbly get on their knees to speak their opinion into a microphone placed on the floor. It is a purely theatrical moment, and it’s such moments that make the whole play worth seeing. (Radu Jude)