Filmmaker Nae Caranfil says in an interview with that the moment he has started to put down in black and white the script for his latest feature, ‘6.9 on the Richter Scale’ he was interested in the “End of the World’s hysteria and flirting with the idea’ that should he carried out ‘a quite apocalyptic comedy’, the latter would have seen its first night the date the End of the World was forecast, namely on 21 December 2012.
“I was rather interested in the hysteria of the End of the World, foretold for 2012, for 21 December 2012. And I was thinking that if I did a pretty apocalyptic comedy, it would have been screened for the first time on that very fatidic day,” said the director.
The movie produced by Mobra Films features Laurentiu Banescu, Maria Obretin, Teodor Corban and Simona Arsu.
The main character, interpreted by Laurentiu Banescu is a young theatre actor who strives to navigate among a complicated musical part, a jealous-to-depressive wife (Maria Obretin) and the obsession of the devastating huge earthquake foretold as imminent by all the so-called prophets. To him, a true earthquake proves to be the unexpected coming of his own father (Teodor Corban), after decades of absence. Manipulative, immoral, his father settles in his son’s universe overwhelmingly confiscating him and shaking his existence.
The feature ‘6.9 on Richter scale’, screened last year at the Transilvania International Film Festival (TIFF), set a new record in the event’s opening: over 3,000 spectators in the Unirii Square of Cluj-Napoca.
The movie had a Bucharest preview within the ‘Les Films de Cannes a Bucarest’, last fall, its screening being sold-out yet before the festival’s kick off.
Nae Caranfil has written and directed six features: ‘Closer to the Moon’ (his first movie in English, starring Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong); ‘Restul e tacere’ / ‘The rest is silence’ (2007), in competition at Locarno Film Festival; ‘Filantropica’ (2002), counting for over 100k moviegoers in Romania; ‘Asfalt Tango’ / ‘Asphalt Tango’ (1996), with Charlotte Rampling; ‘Dolce far niente’ (1998) – in competition at Karlovy Vary Film Festival; ‘E pericoloso sporgersi’, with first run at Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, 1993.
You say that ‘6.9 on the Richter Scale’ is no musical. Why do you say that?
It is not because except for a final number, it doesn’t meet the genre criteria. It’s a realistic comedy where everything that happens, from the musical point of view included, is validated by the situation and the story. I mean, the characters do not start to sing without a reason, as things go in a musical and how we should see in a proper musical. In my story, a musical’s show is repeating, which doesn’t transfer the musical status to the movie.
The reference you make to the art world, to the inside, to the very specifics of the art world has reminded me of the ‘The rest is silence’. Is it a way of revisiting this feature?
No. I wouldn’t tell. ‘The rest is silence’ is a movie I’ve written very many years ago, ‘6.9 on the Richter Scale’ is way recent. I used to have other preoccupations in 2010, when I’ve started to write the script of ‘6.9’. I was rather interested in the hysteria of the End of the World as it was foretold for 2012, for 21 December 2012. And I was thinking that if I did a pretty apocalyptic comedy it could have its first night that very fatidic day.
Several times you said that you are afraid of the earthquakes.
And who isn’t? Perhaps only those who live on continents or in countries that never experience such things…
Or in cities that are not Bucharest…
Earthquakes do reach cities that are not Bucharest, too. For example, Paris is not afraid of earthquakes because it hasn’t any.
Since you have dealt with earthquakes’ matter in this movie, was it a kind of exorcising your fear?
I’ve been asked about that. Not necessarily. Maybe this, too, although I didn’t want to exorcise anything and yet I found it spectacular to play with this element, in particular because the translation between the obsession of the huge earthquake that is threatening us all and the idea to cause an earthquake in a character’s personal life, a private earthquake seemed to me plausible and interesting to father this parallel.
The approach you have towards the artistic life in this movie also reminds me of ‘All That Jazz’…
But of course I had in mind ‘All That Jazz’ when I thought the feature’s ‘grand finale’ part because I’m a great admirer of Bob Fosse…or a tiny admirer of Bob Fosse, he is the great one… And in this case I felt I could allow myself and try to bring a tribute to his style.
How did you work this movie? The pieces of rehearsals, the pieces of musical, the pieces of life, the character’s true life. Have you written them separately, have you filmed them in detached periods?
I have written the script following the story, the way it happened in my imagination. The shooting…A filmmaker very rarely could allow himself to shoot the sequences chronologically or as the story flows. No way. The film is shot by variables depending also by the production, by the day/night, outside/inside shooting, things that keep with the movie’s kitchen. That is why it’s complicated to shoot, because when doing it one must have in their head that what they do will be a part of a bigger mechanism and that its place must perfectly match the big picture.
If you were to get into the movie’s main character’s skin, which was the shooting moment you were much afraid of?
I believe that I was mostly afraid of the earthquakes, because nobody has ever did that. I had no idea. We could repeat a sequence on solid soil. But we couldn’t know what would have happened when we started to shake the scenery, since we couldn’t repeat it forever because we have had to put it back together, a lot of furniture and stuff that would have revolved. Therefore we were rehearsing on solid soil and said “Motor! Action!” trying to make as fewer shots as possible. Because in-between the shots, the time to put the scenery back and repair the damage was quite long.
You have implicated in the musical part yourself…
No, I didn’t, I wrote all of the musical part and the lyrics. And I had help afterwards at the orchestration from two colleagues and good friends – Bogdan Dumitriu and Liviu Manescu.
How hard was it, how different from filmmaking?
I’ve composed the music long before starting to make the movie. It should be ready when the film was to be shot and in a first stage right before the preparation period, I have recorded with the actors the musical pieces that had to be at the foundation of all rehearsals and things that were to happen, including the choreography rehearsals.
You were saying that Laurentiu Banescu was even tested for his voice.
Not tested for his voice, but when I flirted with the idea to have him the main part I asked him if he sings, if he’s got a voice …because that was about, firstly I brought him to the studio where yes we may say he gave a small test. I mean I had him sing one of the pieces, I had him recorded and then we realised that his voice was plausible, feasible to work with.
At the dance moments I saw professional dancers on the film credits. How did you shape this second crew?
Nae Caranfil: Once picked the choreographer and brought him from Belgrade, I’ve organised a casting session for him and I believe he picked 20 out of 50 dancers. He tested them, he had them create a show – if I recall well it was about “Bye Bye Blackbird”, he taught them the show, he developed it with all of the 50 dancers and then he focused on certain dance figures and dancers he had chosen.
Since the music is so spectacular, I have to ask you when an album strictly with the music is to be issued.
We think to make an album strictly with the movie’s music. We haven’t done it yet because time has pressured us, if you ask about the film’s first night. Hopefully in a not that far future we could launch a CD with the film’s music.
I thought that ‘6.9 on the Richter Scale’ is somehow a return of your’s as a filmmaker in Bucharest in the indoor shooting. And I had the impression it reminds of ‘Filantropica’, too.
It’s possible. I’d love it to be so, because it is indeed a Bucharest film. Many of my movies are Bucharest films. Even the vintage films are also Bucharest films. I wouldn’t know what really links me to this city except that I was born here, but, yes, absolutely. The story is imposing its exactingness even upon the author. This is it, this is all about, this is the hero, these are the streets I could stroll him on.
You talk about earthquakes. What would be the major earthquakes in the life of a filmmaker?
They could be dressed variously. It could be the one when a project they start must be abandoned due to some financial catastrophes, as it was the case of Terry Gilliam and his movie on Don Quixote. There is an earthquake. There could be many more. It could be a resounding failure of a costly movie for a producer and as of that moment, you, as a filmmaker, are starting to enter the ‘persona non grata’ space. There are various kinds of earthquakes.
You used to have great projects you have waited to happen, because you wait for the financing. What kept you… in the battle?
Life is always strange. It is complex, with many aspects, so to quote myself. It happened many times that while waiting for a movie another one to appear. Waiting for ‘The rest is silence’ the other film, ‘Asphalt Tango’ appeared. Waiting for ‘Closer to the Moon’, ‘The rest is silence’ appeared. And so on.
The father of the main character of ‘6.9 on the Richter Scale’ breaks into the movie as a stranger who comes to see the artists, and everybody is stunned by him. You have also had the experience of working with foreign producers. How did this experience last in your memory?
In many, many ways. I mean, I have worked with many foreign producers and I have a different story with each of them, but with each one good things happened that have made me richer, made me think a bit different, put me in their shoes, made me see the movie through their eyes. But, mark my words, a producer is a producer, no matter their nationality. Of course there is a big difference between the American and non-American producers. It is a difference of vision and of economic context. And then obviously that they place themselves differently in relation to the film.
Is it hard for a director to obey the producer’s vision? Not to obey necessarily, but to accept it…
Yes. In general, I cannot submit to a producer’s vision. I can at most ‘buy’ certain suggestions he makes. But, all the movies I made are author movies and even when put in the situation – it happened once – to be pressured upon more than ‘legally foreseen’, I have found solutions to fall to my feet and bring my movie to the harbour I wanted to.
If we were to shape an imaginary Richter Scale of your movies, which was the hardest to be financed, which the easiest one?
It’s hard for me to say. Yes, ‘Closer to the Moon’ was hard to finance. We have hoped and hoped to get some money from various sources and we didn’t make it. And the fact that it was done, eventually, it was because the American producer really wanted to do this film and finally found money sources. But it took him years of admirable ambitious’ struggle, if you ask me, for this film to be made.
And what about the easiest to finance?
I guess that ‘Asphalt Tango’ was the easiest to finance. Yes, almost certainly. In a few months, after finishing the writing of the first version of the script, four or five months afterwards we were entering production with all the money in the piggy-bank.