The director of the film “Man and Dog” talks to the blog “Friendship Bridge” about his film, his collaboration with Bulgarian directors, his impressions of Bulgaria and the cultural differences between Sweden, Romania and Bulgaria.
Ștefan Constantinescu (1968, Bucharest) is a Swedish-Romanian film director and visual artist. He works in several fields, including film, photography, artists’ books and painting. He studied classical painting, film and video at the Academy of Art and Cinema in Bucharest and at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm. In 2009 he represented Romania at the Venice Biennale with the film Trolley 92. In 2012, his short film Family Dinner was screened at the Critics’ Week in Cannes, and in 2013, his film Six Big Fish premiered in competition at the Locarno Film Festival.
Mr. Constantinescu, we have the opportunity to talk to you about the film Man and Dog, which you made in collaboration with Sweden and co-producers from Bulgaria and Romania…
…like Rositsa Valkanova, for example, from Bulgaria. What should be noted about your film, which deals with the life of a Romanian immigrant in Sweden, but also with family relations?
What interested me when I was making the film was to speak, to have emotion and some truth, so that the viewer, when watching the film, has the feeling of being there together with the two main characters. It seems to me that intimacy, and the film is a film about intimacy, can be grotesque. I’ve seen that in a few short films and here, in this feature film, I had the opportunity to develop the theme. In the moment you are a spectator, because in real life we don’t usually have the opportunity to be spectators unless we are looking at someone through a keyhole. When we are parents, friends, relatives or neighbors in general, we can’t be in someone else’s personal space. We’re in our own personal space, and when we watch what’s happening in the movie, it looks bad, really bad. I want to show, to see two people humiliating themselves, Doru and Nicoletta in this case, in the case of Man and Dog. How they end up behaving childishly, very childishly, like stupid, big kids who don’t understand anything. And they’ve lost their bearings, especially Doru. I think that’s extremely important. That’s just one issue, but there are many others. I mean, film, like any artistic project, has many layers. It’s also a love story of two people, a couple. Things change over time.
If we have a plan at the beginning, things transform, but for a person it somehow becomes a kind of not seeing the new reality or not accepting it, relying on the original plan. I understand it to some extent. I mean, neither position is wrong. Doru sticks to the original plan. In this case, Nicoletta, as I imagine, is a person from another reality, some new world, who has somehow erased that plan, perhaps because it’s been too long since she and Doru really communicated. Instead, Doru desperately sticks to her plan where she goes abroad to save her family. And it seems to me that’s what happens when you live outside your own space, in another country, alienated, living very much in your own mind. And that’s when the movement of change begins and everyone can have their own story and reality. Again, that’s what I think is interesting about the film. How we perceive events differently, how we evaluate them differently, how we mitigate the circumstances of events or things that we do. Anyway, there’s a lot of things you think about when you’re making a work, a film.
It took me a long time to write the script. I wrote it together with Andrei Epure and Jørgen Andersson. We spent almost seven years making the film. I’m not lying. It took about five years to write the film and two years to shoot it, a total of seven years. I think the film was released on 8 February 2022 at the Gothenburg Film Festival. And it’s been distributed ever since. I’m coming back now from Turin, where it competed. You and I talked for a couple of hours yesterday and today about the film, about the Man and Dog. Not much, but we talked a lot. I sent you the link to see it. And somehow there’s a common story. But I’m sure that the Bulgarian listeners who speak Romanian have never heard of this film and I don’t know when to tell them that they will be able to see it because I don’t know exactly when or if it will be released in the cinema in Bulgaria. I imagine that at some point it might be shown somewhere in Sofia and I will be very happy, as you will be every time a project is seen. That’s what every author wants – to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s only natural that I want to see The Man and Dog and, of course, that it will reach homes or, I don’t know, screens in Bulgaria. That would be very interesting for me. Because I am convinced that there are many things in common between Romania and Bulgaria, for example, labour migration.
Do people in our societies know how to keep their distance or respect the dignity of the other, respect people’s privacy?
I lived 27 years in Sweden and I noticed that people there somehow keep their distance and they keep you at a distance. It was difficult at first, it bothered me. Now that I was in Romania, working on Man and Dog, and I’m preparing another film at the moment, and I was in Romania for quite a long time… only now I understand and somehow appreciate the distance that people have in Sweden, in Romania, I don’t know what Bulgaria is like, because I know Bulgarian society very superficially, I’ll talk about Romania, which I know a bit better.
In Romania you meet someone for a beer, you talk and you learn all about them, but it doesn’t mean anything. In a country like Sweden it is impossible to find friends like that. Maybe it is possible to do it there and it can happen in any world. But if you imagine a relationship in Romania, it doesn’t mean anything, even though somehow you feel that you are close to people, you are not really close to anybody, everything is very fluid. The fact that you are communicating with somebody doesn’t mean much. Things come to you very easily and move away from you very easily. And people somehow open up and do it quite brutally. The moment you meet somebody you don’t know who you’re talking to, but maybe it helps you relax, it helps you let go, it’s like a valve to get some problems out of your brain. But it doesn’t mean much. That’s what I mean, but it doesn’t mean there’s a dialogue. The listener uses you, you use them, you get up, you leave and that’s it. In Romania, things are hard to build, and in general I feel like you have to start over every time. It’s very strange, this feeling that you build for nothing. Things don’t build, they start again every day, almost constantly, which at the beginning when you’re young can be kind of, let’s say, interesting or I don’t know, it gives you a certain kind of energy, a kind of constant novelty, but later you feel like you’re in a loop, like in the movie Groundhog Day.
You collaborate with Bulgarians, especially with Ms. Rositsa Valanova from Klas Film. How do you evaluate this collaboration between Romanian and Bulgarian directors? How do you use what the Bulgarians do?
We collaborated on the film “Man Dog” with Rositsa, who helped the production of the film with technical and human support. Part of our team was from Bulgaria. If I remember correctly, the camera and make-up team and… sound. Yes, Boris was on sound. The camera and all the technical equipment, including the lights, were from Bulgaria. I think overall everything worked well. I think it’s important to collaborate. I think the Bulgarians, or at least the Bulgarian producers, understand the needs of the Romanians very well, and the Romanians understand the needs of the Bulgarians. I think that this thing has to develop because, as the Bulgarians know, we all want to have producers around us to see the project through. I see the cooperation with Bulgaria as absolutely organic. I mean, it’s a kind of deep understanding of each other’s needs. I think that’s really important.
The more you come here as tourists, the more you see some discoveries about Bulgaria. What is interesting about Bulgarians for a Romanian in the creative industry?
I have friends who have long realized this connection. They tell me about Bulgaria, I think since the first years after the revolution, in the 90s, but especially since 2000. Mostly in Krapets, in the sea area. There was a certain culture of hipsters who colonized northern Bulgaria in the sea area, in the Black Sea area. There are filmmakers who make films there. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. Although I went to Bulgaria for the first time when I was 11-12 years old, I discovered Bulgaria much later. This year I went to Veliko Tarnovo.
Now when I went to Veliko Tarnovo, I was shocked by one thing. That it looks like a depopulated country. There were so many villages without people. I looked at the houses. Beautiful houses, brick houses, houses with tiles. I liked that there was no tin on the houses. In the south of Romania there are many houses with tin. Almost all the houses have tin roofs. They were made of wood and stone, of bricks. I mean important elements, elements that are essential. I liked my world and I kept coming back. Another thing I liked was that tomatoes in Bulgaria taste like tomatoes, I think in Romania tomatoes have gone out of taste.
Maybe I’m saying a big stupid thing, but I’m going to say it now because I think so, I think Romania is more dynamic. The moment you go out on the street, on the road in Romania, you see all kinds of cars, everybody overtaking you, everybody in a hurry to get somewhere. Of course, you can think where these people are in a hurry. Yes, there is a certain superficiality and a Romanian need for an epitrahil (priestly garment – ed.) that I didn’t feel so strongly in Bulgaria. I mean, the Bulgarians seem to me like the Romanians of the 1990s, somehow more lost, somehow without that ability to adapt to capitalism and who have, but still, a certain decency, something that the word “decency”, at least in Romania, somehow has an almost pejorative meaning. It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s not good. Being brazen is the big thing in Romania. I mean, what is the good thing about having the courage to be an entrepreneur and having courage. I think that Bulgaria, the Bulgarians, or at least the areas that I have seen in Bulgaria, it is difficult for me to generalise about the whole country, I think that people in these areas are not so aggressive. I think that’s the reason why people migrate from the Romanian coast to the Bulgarian coast, because you don’t feel constantly harassed. That’s why when I want to go back to the 80s, 90s, I come to Bulgaria, I mean I take my dose of going back in time, which gives me some balance. It makes me feel somehow, I feel at peace. If you look at the forests in Bulgaria, you won’t see that they have all been cut down, uprooted. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m transferring things onto the Bulgarians that I wish the Romanians had. Maybe because I find the Bulgarian fence more beautiful than the Romanian one.
I want to tell you that somewhere in 1982-1983 I went with my father to Bulgaria. My brother was supposed to come, but I don’t remember why he couldn’t come. My father had a Trabant. I remember we got up around three in the morning and left. It was a very grey day. I think it was spring. The day wasn’t that long. It was a terrible trip. I got out in the parking lot. We got in our Trabant and drove to Bulgaria. We drove a long way. Everything was grey. I didn’t see any cars. There were still a few cars in Romania. When we arrived in Bulgaria, we didn’t see any cars. That’s what I remember from how seldom I saw a car. We went to Golden Sands, and then we went to Varna.
At that time there was this practice that if you went somewhere you had to buy some things from that country and sell them in Romania to make some speculation from which you could recover your investment and maybe make a small profit. We went to some shops. We had a whole list of things to buy, but we found almost nothing. Because we had to go back, we bought some Tesla speakers that we brought to Romania, and my brother made some speakers out of them because he couldn’t sell them because he had the same speakers in Romania. I remember a rather desolate country with few cars. It was very grey. Both Romania and Bulgaria were grey, but in Varna there were very beautiful roses somewhere in an alley and everything was very clean. And that’s almost all my memory. And it seemed to me that Bulgaria was somewhere very far away. Soon I discovered that Bulgaria is very close to Romania, so an hour and a half from Bucharest you are in Ruse. In my imagination, it was a matter of half a day or even a day while I was travelling in the Trabant to Bulgaria. And these images followed me and somehow made me curious to discover Bulgaria. And going back to what I was talking about at the beginning, most of my friends have already consumed Bulgaria, they’ve been everywhere, they know everything.
They were telling me that it was very cheap, maybe it was also very dangerous at that time, they were chased by cars, there were all kinds of adventures on the roads or at the gas stations in Bulgaria that are gone today, but for me it was something new. Because there, in Sweden, I was busy with other areas. I would like to do something here in Bulgaria. I’m sorry I don’t know Bulgarian, but that’s all. Actually, that’s almost my whole testimony for Bulgaria. Today, 2 December, yesterday was Romania’s national holiday – 1 December 2022.
Let us end briefly with the fact that you are seeking some cooperation with the Bulgarians.
Yes, I am looking for a Bulgarian producer for the next film, to co-produce the film “A Martian Odyssey”. Now I’m here thanks to you and I’ve had several meetings with different people. There is a possibility to collaborate on an art project.
Photo: Ștefan Constantinescu (source: The Bridge of Friendship)
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