A Palme D’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada has been submitted as Romania’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. A sprawling, ambitious family drama, coming in at a nearly three hour running time, the latest entry from the much-lauded filmmaker tells the story of a successful neurologist, who gathers with family on the anniversary of his father’s death.
A thoughtful, melancholy reflection on family and one’s place within it, Sieranevada takes on added weight given the time in which the story takes place—three days after the terrorist attacks on the offices of Parisian satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. If Sieranevada moves on to the Academy Awards, it would be the first Romanian film ever nominated, in a year that marks a first-ever entry from Yemen, and a second from Saudi Arabia.
Joining Deadline senior editor Dominic Patten for a conversation following an Awardsline screening of the film were actors Judith State and Rolando Matsangos, who reflected on Puiu’s fluid approach to the material he had written, and his very particular methods on set. “The costume and the Croatian girl, they were not scripted. They sort of came along just before shooting; that was not scripted,” Matsangos explained. “So there were lots of things that changed within the script. It was not very rigid…He doesn’t care much about following the script as a work of literature or anything.”
By all accounts, the production of Sieranevada was quite meticulous, and quite rigorous—in the course of shooting the lengthy feature, the actors were tasked with remaining present and open to “little miracles”—little moments of truth transpiring organically in the room. “We were forced to be present, so during the whole period while we were filming, we were very much alive there, because Cristi has a magnificent way of detecting any moment of dishonesty,” State explained. “We would go again and again until he would feel that he touched the core, the truth, the essence of what he felt was the truth.”
“It was very difficult—the whole shoot was very difficult. We took a lot of takes,” Matsangos added, while clarifying that even in the film’s small verite moments, there was never a dull moment for the actors. “We didn’t ever think of these moments as being boring. Not one second,” he said. “Everything had to be there to be very true, so ‘boring’ was not a criteria for any of us, any time.”
In an Awardsline video exclusive above, State and Matsangos elaborate on the claustrophobic atmosphere on set during the 42-day shoot, which was shot largely in an apartment, in gloomy winter weather.