Marian Crişan's first feature, Morgen, observes from afar and with humor a few days in the lives of two people unable to speak the same language but who discover other channels of communication and unimaginable depths of humanity. His latest film, Rocker, is the portrait of a father who has to break limits, rules and laws in order to save his son, a drug addict. Before winning the Palme d'Or in 2008 with his short Megatron, which follows a mother and her son on their road trip to the nearest local McDonald's, Marian Crişan made two other shorts (The Amateur, an elaborate and polished portrait of contemporary neuroses, and Family Portrait, a mockumentary about two young rock fans getting ready for their wedding), which exhibit a broad conceptual and stylistic range, symptomatic of Crişan's effervescent search for his own voice.
Who's the main character in Rocker?
It's a father willing to do anything to protect and save his son, a heroin addict. This is an extreme father-and-son relationship, in which you can see their exceptionally tight blood ties, which in turn justify the breaking of rules and laws. I was interested in seeing a father in a borderline situation caused by his son's problems. A documentary gives you limited possibilities, whereas fiction has the advantage of showing people in exceptional circumstances, and can let you choose moments to which you're not paying too much attention in real life, and which pass you by, yet, once captured on film, become important and build "a new reality".
Where does your interest for this world and for this kind of addiction come from?
Before shooting Morgen, I was working on a feature script which dealt with heroin addicts. During the research for the script, I made a documentary about Tudor Sisu - rap singer, heroin addict, and drug traffic convict. This documentary, Monday, depicts a day in the life of Tudor Sişu. I was curious to see how heroin addicts lived, because I saw Sişu pretty often; I worked on his music videos. I wanted to see why they do what they do, what their life rhythm is, and how they perceive the world around them. The reasons behind their addiction are very vague and, often enough, not very dramatic. I realized that I didn't find out much and that no drama could be extracted from the material. Then I read an article about a father who, out of despair, started to inject his own son with heroin, in gradually smaller doses, trying to make him quit while under his control. This case impressed and inspired me. I realized then that a possible dramatic character would not be the addict but someone close to him, like a parent.
So I gave up writing that script and started drafting something lighter. I wrote Morgen and then managed to shoot it pretty quickly. After wrapping up the shoot for Morgen, I came back to the heroin script and started to build a new structure. Because the story is not about the heroin addict himself but rather about his father, I tried to avoid that spectacle you inevitably
see in movies about drug addicts who shoot up, with close-ups on needles and dilated pupils, people who hallucinate and see all sorts of cool stuff. I tried to observe the character while doing my best to avoid the "appealing" side often portrayed in movies about addicts. Usually, when you see this kind of movie, you immediately adopt the drug user's perspective, as everything is seen through his or her eyes. I tried to take a tangential perspective on this world and see it reflected in the life of someone who is dealing indirectly with this problem.
I didn't want to pontificate or draw any conclusions. I wanted merely to observe and maybe gain some insight.
Drugs tear the two protagonists apart, but, paradoxically, also keep them tied to each other. How did the two end up in this situation?
I think that the blood bond between father and son is stronger than anything else. In a way, we all depend on our parents up to a certain point. In this film, apart from drugs, there is another common denominator: rock music. They're both into rock music, that is their main shared interest, and both their lives are centered around the son's band, The Iguanas. The band plays punk rock and loses itself in provincial obscurity. This is another world I'm interested in, and which I wanted to bring to the screen. The band in the movie is based, both in terms of structure and repertoire, on a real rock band from Salonta, my native town. We use a real band and recreate its identity, while preserving their repertoire and the emotions their music stirs in you. In the fictional band, there is only one member of the original band which Rocker is based, the other three are actors. But I chose them based on their musical skills too. The actors in the band were Part of a real band for a few months. They rehearsed together and sang live during shooting.
Just like in Morgen, you picked unfamiliar faces here too. How did you find the actors who play the father and the son?
It's a way of working, especially when you're making this kind of cinema. As a viewer, you're given the impression of truthfulness and reality also because you are looking at people you haven’t seen before. You enter the film differently when you’re under the impression you’re the first to see it. However, I don’t think this is a formula, and I wouldn’t say that I’ll keep working only like this.
I met Dan Chiorean, the actor who plays the father, completely by chance at a film festival abroad. We chatted and a few days later I decided he might be the right for the part. He has an interesting approach, in way he talks, in his gestures, in his energy. Just like with Andras Hathazi (the lead in Morgen), with Dan Chiorean there was a certain chemistry. He was a good match for that character, and I wanted someone who knew a little about music, about rock, someone able to play an instrument. He plays folk music, guitar and sings. After few auditions, it became clearer that he had the necessary inner qualities to [play the father. Moreover, there many scenes in the movie which exact more from those involved—actions or situations for which I asked the actors to go above and beyond. so to speak. Dan was one hundred percent there from beginning until end.
Alin State plays the son. Alin is part of the new generation of graduates and students of the National Film and Drama University (UNATC). Our casting took us to many drama schools around the country. I think there is a very interesting new generation of actors. Alin, just like Dan, approached this film by trying to get as close as posible to the character. He put himself through a strict diet, lost a lot of weight, slept less and less, started to enter an addict’s state of mind. He really “became” the lead singer of the rock band with which he rehearsed and played during the shoot. As part of his preparation, Alin spent a few days with former drug addicts in a rehab center. This helped him to build his inner impulses based on the typology of an addict, in terms of gestures, physical .aspect. manner of speech.
In this movie, just like in Morgen, you use an observational aesthetic. Why do you chose to tell your stories like this and not in any other way?
I wouldn't want to pigeon-hole myself into a certain way of making movies. I try to find the right rhythm and approach for each and every scene. In fiction, you set a convention, and the viewer is invited to join the game. For me, this is an exploration which makes me curious when I prepare and when I shoot. I try to keep the filmmaking mechanism as alive and spontaneous as possible.
Unlike Morgen, Rocker is not a narrative film but rather a portrait of a man on the edge. The film tries to capture emotions, moments, and fragments from his existence. There is also a feeling of frustration, because you don't always manage to understand him or his actions. But you're forced to stay with him, and you realize that he doesn't understand very well what's happening to him either.
Although both Morgen and Rocker have some commonalities in their approach, I want to give myself some freedom every time, to do as I feel at each particular point in time, to do something without knowing how it will end up, and let it be built on set and in editing, developing in front of my eyes. In this case, I did something potentially risky: Half an hour before shooting I removed the dialogue from the script and, together with the actors, we tried to find the right tone and the right words. With Rocker I drafted the shooting script with minimal use of long shots. I tried to place the camera and use cuts to best serve the actors' play, following their faces and their gestures. In many instances, the distance between the camera and the characters was eliminated. There are a lot of close-ups, and that's something missing from Morgen.
Something that's really important to me, and which exists in both movies, is observing the characters traveling across natural landscapes. I like to take my characters out in the open, in the middle of nature. It's something that intrigues me each time, when a character comes to lose himself in the landscape to find his
direction or simply to be alone for a while.