Peter Calin Netzer • Director
On medals, awards and honour
Peter Calin Netzer’s feature debut Maria won several prizes at the Locarno Film Festival in 2003. His second feature, Medal of Honor [+see also:
film profile], took home five trophies at last year's Thessaloniki International Film Festival and at the Transylvania Festival in Romania earned him Best Director and star Victor Rebengiuc (The Forest of the Hanged, Morometii) Best Actor.
Cineuropa: How did you come to direct Medal of Honor [+see also:
Peter Calin Netzer: I received the screenplay from Tudor Voican two weeks before the Romanian National Centre of Cinema organized the public film fund competition in 2007. I liked it, but I had my reservations. I gave the screenplay to some friends to read and all said the same thing: “Do it, you've waited too long”. The truth was that five years had already passed since my first film, Maria, and I was looking for a subject for a new film.
Finally, I agreed to compete with the screenplay, with the condition of working a little more on it. I think it was difficult for me to decide because it was the first time I directed a film based on someone else’s screenplay. After winning the contest Tudor and I changed the story a little bit, certain sequences and some dialogue. From the very first reading I realized that the main character should be played by Victor Rebengiuc and I finally had the chance to work with one of my favourite actors.
The events in the film take place in 1995. Did that present production problems?
The production problems were quite big. Actually, this was my first reservation concerning the script. From the very beginning I tried to place the events in the present day, but it was impossible because the characters would have become too old. We had to remove or change sequences and many of them were adapted to interior locations. It is hugely difficult to shoot in crowded places without CGI and our budget was too small to significantly change the present locations. Even the protagonists' apartment had to be rebuilt in an abandoned villa. In the last 15 years too many things have changed.
You have received several awards for your second feature. Has the fate of the medal in the film changed your perspective on trophies?
Yes, I think we have a little Ion in all of us. What would it be like to have all my prizes taken away? Seriously speaking, I think it is the other way around. You tend to relativize the importance of a prize when you do not win it. Prizes mean acknowledgement and encouragement for what you have achieved. When you don't win them you begin to doubt their importance, it's a normal psychological reaction.
Medal of Honor features a cameo by former Romanian president Ion Iliescu. What did you tell him about playing his part and what were his most interesting reactions or questions during shooting?
I asked him to be himself, as he shows up in the film as himself! As for the reactions, he had some observations at the beginning of shooting. He said he never gave medals to war veterans during 1995. I explained to him, along with Victor Rebengiuc, that Medal of Honor was a work of fiction and not a documentary. After that, everything went really well. We shot the scene in two or three hours with several cameras.
In your opinion, what is the biggest disadvantage to making movies in Romania? What are the advantages?
Presently, I think the only advantage is the attention paid to Romanian cinema in festivals. It is remarkable how things have changed lately. Ten years ago nobody was interested in Romanian films and now they are a must for any cinemagoer, critic or journalist.
The problem is that they are not seen by wide audiences, neither in Romania nor abroad. I think the problem is above all the language. A Romanian film – however commercial or awarded at Cannes, Berlin or Venice – sells less than an average German or Italian film. Not to mention the number of admissions to a Romanian film at home, compared to the same number for a domestic film in the Czech Republic, Poland or even Hungary.
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