Corneliu Porumboiu Talk
April 30th. Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu steps into the preview theatre to give a talk on his work, and on the art of directing. He grew up in a small eastern-bloc country, born as a director into the post-Soviet creative boom. In this room, he is no one’s favourite director. However, this has more to do with his lack of international appeal, making only foreign-language films, than with his skill as a director. A five-time Cannes award winner, this man is no hack. After the necessary introductions, and a series of admittedly bland questions from the moderator, Porumboiu begins to get into the meat of things with questions from the floor.
“I have never had that.”, the statement comes immediate, without hesitation. A bold one, considering the nature of the question. Porimboiu claims to never have had writer’s block. But this is not a boast nor magic talent. Just plain, simple hard work. He shoots documentaries when he isn’t shooting a feature film, and he writes every day. “Don’t rely on inspiration.”, he continues. According to Porimboiu, the only way forward is through work. Once you graduate, get work. Work with yourself, in order to grow. Work in the industry. Practice, the director says, will fill in the gaps that exist in the theory. These are not just words. The man used to steal unused film from the ends of movie reels in order to shoot his own films. And after all this work, and the hours put in, things like writer’s block begin to become irrelevant, even nonexistent. “The stories, they pick me.”
Another quality in a filmmaker that Porumboiu seems to place importance in is that of personal honesty. Use the time in school to make mistakes, he emphasizes. It is important to find your own personality, develop it. These themes of individuality come up often during the talk. When asked about the common thread connecting his seven films, Porumboiu thinks before coming up with “freedom”, then “individuality”. Perhaps it is his childhood, growing up in the USSR, surrounded by propaganda and crushing authority, that makes these values so important to the director. However, unlike his creative output, this type of honesty is not something Porumboiu claims to have an easy time with. He describes a difficulty with being honest with himself. It’s something he keeps working on (there’s that word again), consistently trying to reach that somethinginside himself. Porumboiu speaks about this experience as exploring a big house. It has many doors, and each film opens a new one. Some of the doors will forever stay shut, but this attitude of exploration seems to ground Porumboiu’s drive for honesty.
At the end of the talk, Porumboiu mingles with the students in the lift lobby, chatting with his manager. There is no hero-worship here, no adulation. But Porumboiu seems not to be too bothered. Perhaps he prefers it this way. After all this is the man that described his films as being about “things from my world”, shunning the extraordinary in favour of a certain human connection. And as he steps into a crowded lift, maybe that’s how he views it. Not as a director unknown to these film students, nor as an award-winner sharing his knowledge with a bunch of upstarts. But, as he put it, just “normal people, in normal situations.”