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Interview with GABRIEL ACHIM, 52nd TIFF
Director Gabriel Achim
When I met Romanian director Gabriel Achim, I asked him about his film and he said this: 'Well, if you like intellectual porn then you will like my film...' Well, what a pitch because I couldn’t wait to see it, and indeed ADALBERT'S DREAM (Visul Lui Adalbert, 2011) IS ‘Intellectual Porn’… Read below to get to first base. But to go all the way, you’ll have to see the film!
ME: why is it called ‘Adalbert Dream’? I mean, in the film the question is asked but not exactly answered.
GABRIEL: The title of the film is ironical because of its Romantic connotations, which have nothing to do with the practical, down-to-earth “socialist realism” reflected in the film. The protagonist himself is answering this question: “to give the impression that he made a foreign film”. Of course, he’s kidding. The real answer is coming from watching his film. Which is about Adalbert, a recent graduate of the Industrial College. Like any lad of his age, Adalbert has his own dreams. His dream must be the same with what the Party wants from him: he has to be an enthusiastic grinder and filer. But Adalbert is working with a broken file handle and is not quite happy: ever since then, night after night, Adalbert has had nightmares. All his pleasant dreams have become nightmares, and all of them have the same subject: the file handle. How often has Adalbert tried, in his dreams, of course, to change the handle of a huge file... In vain. He couldn't do it. Each time a low voice commands: "Stop. What are you doing? Leave the handle alone, don't change it." "I've had an accident. Don't you see? It s broken." - says the young Adalbert. But the low voice (of course, it could be the mighty Party‘s voice) has the final word: "You cannot err, because you are pure of body and soul." A surreal dream, presented as the film “Adalbert’s Dream” to an audience of workers with no artistic interest whatsoever. A dream, which involuntary undermines an oppressive and depressive reality (the final years of a ferocious communist Ceausescu’s regime) and in the end turns into a different metaphor – the metaphor of the lost hand, which is symbolical for an entire age. A „re-enactment” of the collective subconscious, haunted by the specter of the Communist Party.
ME: How do you feel about your film being so well received internationally and well loved by audiences?
GABRIEL: Let’s hear a word from one of the world leading film magazines, when they saw a screener of the film: “The only eventual clients for this negligently shot, lame digital debut (the picture literally shoots itself in the leg with its dismal look !) may be such survivors of the ex-communist regime. It wasn’t much fun living through it, and through the perspective of 25 years it might be considered amusing, but only to those who are familiar with the background. The rest will balk and go away.” Enough to get one on the verge of suicide. Happily, there came another one, from another most important world film magazine: “The Romanian New Wave continues to bear fruit! A case in point is Adalbert's Dream, a wry and occasionally very funny slice-of-life. The authors realize an audacious concept of shooting the picture using old-school VHS technology - all the better to capture the dingy tones of late-80s Romania, providing a highly distinctive visual texture. This confidently-handled directorial debut will be warmly received at festivals worldwide. It's also sufficiently accessible and distinctive to be considered for art-house play in receptive territories.” I was really confused. It seems that satire transcends history and countries borders, but not all film critics :) Woody Allen thanked God that France exists. I want to thank God for festivals audiences.
ME: Can you explain the news stories you have inserted periodically in the film? We are left to assume they are part of the documentary that we never get to see. Why do we see the fiction film and not the doc? Are you alluding to the Communist period in which fiction (lies, propaganda) acceptable and truth not?
GABRIEL: One of the questions we (I and my co-writer friend) asked ourselves while working on this script was: How do we tell history? How does history turn into (your) story? We decided to turn to real stories in order to grasp history – a myriad of powerful interlinked stories, though we are fully aware that the truth of private stories does not automatically lend veracity to the whole texture…
…The protagonist is working in Health and Safety Department and he’s dealing with that kind of stories put on film slides. And, in spite of behaving like a dissident, he is fully involved in the Party propaganda. Because, besides their instructive meaning, these stories on negative slides aim at being ideological films, so that the negative consequences of not obeying the unwritten “rules” of the Party had to become an “example” for all the labor force. Apart from the grotesque picture of communist Romania they draw, the both protagonist’s H&S films, the fiction and the documentary, also question the cinema manipulative force. Both films end up being weird productions: one of them is a surreal comedy (the fictitious one, “Adalbert’s Dream”), while the other one is a disturbing copy of the monstrous political regime (the documentary – in spite of the fact that we are seeing just a sample of it :)…
…Actually I made the whole film as a H&S film. A work accident is re‐enacted in a Romanian communist factory on the 8th of May 1986, but the re‐enactment turns into a new accident: the worker playing the victim gets his hand cut off, as well. A perfect opportunity for “disenchanting” cinema :)
ME: Can you comment on the recent success and quality of a Romanian cinema? It has really become a Mecca for great indie art house films, many of them winning critical acclaim all over the world.
GABRIEL: There is a story from the Ceausescu time about a guy who works in a bicycle factory and, as all the workers of the communist Romania, steals bicycle components to assemble his own bicycle at home. And, after a couple of weeks, when he gets all the pieces and puts them together, guess what: he gets a Kalashnikov rifle! Which was quite normal, as the bicycle factory was only the façade for a secret communist rifle plant…I think that’s a good parable about the new Romanian cinema. There is no a simple coincidence with De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” :)…
…We are living in a country, which is far away from being perfect. I think it’s the only way of living real great stories. Unfortunately, the large part of the Romanian audience doesn’t seem to enjoy to be mirrored on the big screen. They actually want something similar with “Bridget Jones Diary”. I don’t have anything against it. I really want “Adalbert’s Dream” to be a romantic comedy. I was stealing different stories from reality and when put them together, I got a black comedy.
ME: Do you care to comment on what you will be working on next?
GABRIEL: I’m working on a road movie film about a 55 year engineer who’s trying to save Ceausescus (the dictator and his wife) from an entire nation hot on their heels and mad about killing them. Even if that means seeing Ceausescu dressed up as Santa Claus:)…
…When we (I and Cosmin Manolache (Best European Fiction 2010 - http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/info/?fa=text97) decided to write the script about that work accident, the next day, he found a bunch of slides on the sidewalk in a front of a church on one of the most famous street in Bucharest. Most of them are in the film!
ME: LOL. Well, you certainly pull off the ironical with the serious and the satire, the sacred and the profane. And I like your description of the film as ‘intellectual porn’ because some who view it might just see on the surface a -“negligently shot, lame digital debut”-, for example, but other more analytical viewers will detect the depth under the surface of the film and see, for example, -“a wry and occasionally very funny slice-of-life”- of The Romanian New Wave. Well, this is Gabriel's dream and stimulate the intellect it does. Well done, Gabriel!
Interview by Vanessa McMahon, November 30, 2011
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