Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu is a Moldovan screenwriter and film director. Her medium-form film Panihida, which revolves around the clash of tradition and modernity at an elder woman's funeral,premiered at Wiesbaden goEast, Sofia, and Rome, where it won the CinemaXXI Award for Short and Medium Films. Her feature film debut Anishoara premiered at Munich, San Sebastián, Seattle, Thessaloniki, Tallinn Black Nights, Guadalajara and Vancouver, where it won Best Cinematography.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Ana-Felicia Scutelnicu discusses life in the Moldolvan countryside, the inexorable passing of time, the destiny and virtue of simple human beings during times of poverty and her next project.
FILMATIQUE: Anishoara, which traces the final year in the life of a young woman before she embarks on her journey of adulthood, is based partly on the life of the film's titular protagonist. What about Anisoara Morari's life and her circumstances captured your attention?
ANA-FELICIA SCUTELNICU: The film is partly based on Anishoara Morari's life circumstances. It really was her last year in the village, because immediately after our shoot in summer 2014 she moved to study at a university in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. And she had in real life been living alone with her brother Andrei for some years, after the death of their parents.
The circumstances of Anishoara and her brother reflects a very sad reality in my country of origin— Moldova— in general, because many parents leave their kids in order to go abroad in search of a better way to earn money. Also the story of the strange German man visiting Anishoara's village is based on a real story. But do not forget that absolutely everything in my movie underwent an artistic transformation and a fictionalization. I make auteur cinema, and my movie Anishoara is strongly braided with real life. But anyway it is a fiction, not a documentary.
FLMTQ: Your debut feature is considered, in some ways, an extension of your medium-form film Panihida. Both films witness the clash between tradition and modernity through the eyes of a young woman. What drew you to the rhythms of the Moldovan countryside and the stories of the people who live there, and why in particular did you choose the vantage point of a female perspective?
AFS: Panihida and Anishoara are two different movies that use the same ingredients in the filmmaking. I went back to Moldova in 2010 to shoot Panihida after a very strong experience during the funeral of my grandmother. From this experience I developed a project but arrived in a completely different village in my country to realize my vision. As a result, as a director I was forced to confront old traditions in a very profound way: I was struck by the amazing people living pure emotions and in strong harmony with the mesmerizing nature that surrounds them.
The work of my team was to do our best to capture these people through images and sound. Anishoara Morari impressed me immediately with her strong presence in front of the camera and she became a sort of alter ego. After finishing Panihida I felt that I would like to work more in the same countryside with the same method, meaning working with nonprofessional actors and a small team. Anishoara came into her adolescence and I decided to make an ample study of this ephemeral human age from a female perspective, because I am a woman and Anishoara is a girl.
FLMTQ: Anishoarais structured over the course of a year that is demarcated by the coming and going of seasons, giving the audience the feeling that time passes gradually but without pause. How did you seek to construct the flow of time, and in particular relation to Anishoara's transition from childhood to young womanhood?
AFS: Yes, indeed, I tried to catch the rhythm of life itself, with time passing naturally, inexorably, inexplicably, like the seasons or the water in a river. I wanted to confront in a filmic way the complete life stages, as the four seasons are dedicated to different human ages: summer— childhood, autumn— maturity, winter— adulthood and spring— youthfulness, the emancipation and the rebellion. I shot Anishoara over the course of a year, so I had the chance to capture both the external and internal changes of the character and of the real person.
FLMTQ: Many of the characters are portrayed by unprofessional actors which lends a strong sense of naturalism and observed behavior to the film. How was your approach to working with the individuals from this small town different from the way you would direct more experienced actors?
AFS: The majority of Anishoara's characters are portrayed by unprofessional actors and people from the Moldovan countryside, people I have known very well since my own childhood and from the shooting of Panihida. I can really say that I have a special affinity for the life and people of the countryside. Maybe this explains why my inspiration and motivation to make movies with them and about them.
Working with these people is absolutely different from working with professional actors, because they are how they are and they cannot act— even more, they are not allowed to act if you want a natural emotion to play in front of the camera. So I just invented and recreated familiar situations in a very natural ambience where they felt comfortable being themselves.
The vision of the whole movie was, on one side, in my head and on the other side, was continuously modified by the surprises of real life in front of and behind the camera. Later it followed a huge process in the editing room to find the final movie. To be sincere with you: even now I do not think a final movie exists, because Anishoara is a creature with its own being, a pulse and life inside.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
AFS: I am working right now on a new project, but I am at the beginning of the writing process. The story takes place in the mid-90s in a backyard in the center of Chisinau, where a group of people and families are trying to survive during new times after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is something completely different from my previous filmic works, but again revolves around an affinity for the destiny and virtue of simple human beings during hard times of poverty and unfairness.