Samstag, 18.02.2012

Andrei Ujica at Harvard (notes)

Last October the Harvard Film Archive presented Ujica’s trilogy about the collapse of the communist states. Now the Romanian director visited and took questions after a repeated screening of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU.

He first stated that this is a syntactic and not a compilation film. His intention was to deconstruct the propaganda footage, converting it back to quasi rushes and start his own editing, thus using a different approach than compiling pre-existing fragments.

The idea for the film title came up when his friend Peter Sloterdijk gave him Norberto Fuentes’ ‘Autobiography of Fidel Castro’.

Asked about the soundtrack he felt extremely lucky to have had the editor and sound designer in one person: Dana Bunescu. Their footage was 90% silent, so they had to partly create natural ambiences, but furthermore created several layers of abstraction, between the extremes of total silence and two pieces of the composer Ligeti (in the scene with the gigantic futuristic city model). The use of total silence for some interior scenes was meant to obtain a degree of purity; all sound was chosen for dramaturgical reasons “to break the rhythm of the propaganda river”. And then again they let audio sequences stand by themselves to a black screen (the screaming at the earthquake 1977).

Which audience did he intend his film for? Ujica had his students, the younger generation, in mind. And to the question whether he tested audience reactions before final cut and release of the film, he vehemently responded that he would never do that! (This I find extraordinary and remarkable, since all these rough cut screenings, previews etc. are common practice, and you certainly could argue a lack of artistic confidence or calculation in contemporary filmmaking and discuss the reasons for it.) He then talked quite a bit about the trauma which followed the shooting of Ceausescu and his wife – “a legal crime”, comprehensible because the dictator had created so much hate. While feeling much the same way Ujica found a new approach to Ceausescu during his work on the film. After an audience comment on the obvious humourous accents in the film (like during a parade you can see a movie theatre in the background, advertising DEEP THROAT) he described that he became more interested in the “Shakespearean tragical element” of the dictator who stayed – visible through all the pomp – the plain peasant, who he was from birth. This discrepancy fascinated Ujica and became prevalent in his film. Ceausescu was a fundamental communist, not so much a pathological/corrupt dictator like Stalin or Hitler. He really believed in the ideology of his time.

Ujica sees his film as a “fresco of modern communist rule”, capturing “the appealing structure of a completely wrong ideology”, clearly the Potemkin village… This irony is central in the film, and it cuts more than one way. Carter does not fare so well either. “The masquerade is more general”.

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