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CANNES 2022 Un Certain Regard

Alexandru Belc • Director of Metronom

“I am a firm believer in cinema’s power of change”

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- CANNES 2022: The Romanian director talks about freedom, music and the hardships of making a period film in his country

Alexandru Belc • Director of Metronom
(© Ionuț Rusu)

After directing a documentary, Cinema, mon amour [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alexandru Belc
film profile
]
(2015), Romanian director Alexandru Belc makes his fiction debut with Metronom [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alexandru Belc
film profile
]
, a period drama which is currently competing in the Un Certain Regard section of the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Here is what the director has to say about communism, the power of music and, of course, the power of cinema.

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Cineuropa: Metronom was born out of a research study that seemed more destined for a documentary. How did you end up turning it into a fiction feature? And more importantly, just how much fiction is in Metronom?
Alexandru Belc: Indeed, Metronom came from research meant for a documentary film. I have always believed that the shape and genre of a film come from the very story you want to tell. Ideas come first and form follows. I wanted to make a film about 1970s Romania, about young people, about that generation that searched for freedom where freedom actually was not there. A fiction feature seemed the best choice. But it was nonetheless a challenge for me, starting from other people’s testimonies and turning them into an original, coherent story, with strong characters, adding emotion and tension to a simple story. Metronom is pure fiction built on elements that come for a very exact historical context, an intimate love story between two teenagers.

Speaking about teenagers, what do you think about young Romanians nowadays, who know so little about communism? How do you expect Metronom to challenge them?
For young people, communism is just a concept they learn about in school or hear about at home, from family members. If you manage to turn this concept into fact, if you can tell a universal story around it, a story in which anyone could see themselves, spread it over a slice of history, then I think the film can work for them. It’s important that the film challenges them, moves them, makes them wish to learn more about the era, identify with the characters. The film’s music is a powerful medium for communication with youngsters today. Music describes the era, puts the finishing touches on the painting of those times and, more importantly, makes the story universal, creating a bridge to younger generations.

What do you think about the fact that Romanian cinema is less willing to exorcise the communist era in films than the cinemas of other former communist countries?
I think there is a fear about making “another film about communism”. I had it myself, I think many other directors have it. A period film is very difficult to make, especially with the budget constraints that Romanian films face. You have to find funding abroad and then you wonder if you can take a communist story to a foreign producer who has either seen too much of it, or just wants to see much more. It’s risky.

Films about communism are either very bleak (for example Quod Erat Demonstrandum [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Andrei Gruzsniczki
interview: Andrei Gruzsniczki
film profile
]
) or colourful (for example That Trip We Took with Dad [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Anca Miruna Lazarescu
film profile
]
). Where would you place Metronom between these two extremes?
I didn’t set out to make a film about communism but rather to tell a story that happens in those times and that cannot function outside that period, even if it has a certain universality. I used the 1970s as a backdrop for the story, without trying to overplay the era. I preferred to put the focus on the characters, on their relationship and on the subtleties of the story. I told the story of those times through music, costumes, colours and especially the characters. The characters are the ones that speak of communism, they are specific to that era, completely defined by it and its social and political context.

A few years ago, you directed Cinema, mon amour, a documentary about the deplorable state of Romanian theatres. Do you believe that cinema has the power to generate change?
I am a firm believer in cinema’s power of change. The documentaries I have seen had palpable results; they generated real, visible change. When I wrote the script for Metronom, I felt a deep responsibility towards history and mainly towards cinema. I thought about the necessity of safeguarding the past. I wanted to approach with a certain detachment the story of these teenagers from the 1970s, so thirsty for freedom and influenced by western music, culture and the hippy movement, by [Radio Free Europe anchor] Cornel Chiriac’s Metronom.

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