I remember the first time I saw a Romanian movie as a teenager, it was from the Ceaușescu era of course, just as I was from the Reagan one. In fact, my entire teenage years were confined within the great communicator’s two terms in office. Not that I’d compare myself to a victim of a truly oppressive regime. And it probably didn’t make much difference being a teenager under George Bush Senior or even under Jimmy Carter. Still, Reagan and only Reagan. It seemed a bit unfair, and there was a hint of something sinister in it, even if only symbolically so.
Back to the film, itself bursting with unfairness, as it was about, at least from what I can recall, a place that was between an orphanage and detention center dealing with Romania’s problem of homeless teenagers and children that once left on the streets get involved in all sorts of dangerous activities. The film cleverly showed how being brought into the regulated, official sphere of life doesn’t at all make those dangerous activities go away, it just helps organize them, making them at times less chaotic but often even more sadistic. What had been a search for food, shelter and drugs is now about an altogether differrent force. Asserrting power now becomes a, if not the, primary concern.
I don’t really remember what happened. The beginning was bleak and violent, and so was the middle as well as the end, the end perhaps even more so. I left the screening thinking two things: One, it was a good thing I hadn’t taken a date to see it. Can you imagine? If she had put her arm around my neck I would immediately have assumed she was trying to strangle me! But the second idea troubled me more – is this what good Romanian films are like? I understand life is extremely difficult there but this can’t be the artistic be all and end all.
An interview with Romanian author Cecilia Ştefănescu carried out by Istros Books, the publisher of her novel Sun Alley, reveals that far from resembling the pallettes of the filmmakers and writers that I had come to associate with a kind of dark, difficult, confrontational and occassionally boring Romanian culture, there was another approach to take.
Sun Alley was excerpted in B O D Y’s Saturday European Fiction last week.
Before publishing Sun Alley (Intrarea soarelui, 2008 ) Ştefănescu wrote a debut novel Love Sick, which has been made into a film by Tudor Giurgiu and has been shown at film festivals in Karlovy Vary and Berlin.
The interview focuses on the different artistic and thematic direction Ştefănescu’s first two novels have gone in – e.g. both what she writes about and what she doesn’t write about:
Q: If I understand correctly her first novel Love Sick also took love as a main theme? Can you tell me a bit about Love Sick and how important writing about love is for you?
Cecilia Ştefănescu: Writing about love is as important as writing about myself, about my fears and expectations. I think all of us, at some levels, lead our lives wondering what our purpose is and fearing about our end. We need to be loved and fear we might not be. In Love Sick, I wanted to depict the world through the eyes of a young woman who fell in love, accidentally with another woman, and distorted her reality in order for her to be happy. I spoke about the post-Ceauşescu era, about the Romanian 90s, a controversial and very difficult period of recent Romanian history. But, it’s true, I don’t touch real historical subjects, I talk about that historical period through a personal experience. I think that’s the only way you can speak about collective events.
Q: Why did you decide to write about love in two novels?
Cecilia Ştefănescu: In Love Sick, I wrote about adolescent love, it was a coming-of- age story. In Sun Alley, it was mature, adulterous love. The end is tragic beacause it can’t be otherwise. I often wondered why, I still can’t find an answer…
Read the full interview here