16th ÉCU – The European Independent Film Festival
9th, 10th, 11th April 2021
IF WE SMARTEN UP
European Dramatic Short
After the sale of the family flat, live-in maid Maria finds herself homeless and stranded. She decides to declare the broom cupboard, located on the same floor as her former flat, her new home. Her neighbours, however, are everything but pleased by this solution. They start to see the elderly maid as an intrusion into their lives, and can’t help but wonder how to get rid of her.
Hi Larisa thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
Hi and thank you for having me. I’m not sure I know. I’m trying to approach it with a mix of stoicism and optimism.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration or opportunities?
I've launched a podcast with a Luxembourgish artists collective and generally written more. It's changed how I perceive my work in that way. The time allotted to it.
Congratulations on having If We Smarten Up selected for the 16th ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
I'm delighted! It's my debut short film, so to be part of this selection of fellow filmmakers is uplifting and encouraging.
You have had an amazing festival run with your short film, has it been a welcome surprise to you to have gotten such a warm reception for your debut short film?
Definitely. It's been a long journey in many ways and having that reception means the world.
How much has your background as an actress helped prepare you for taking a step behind the camera and directing your first short film?
I've tried to direct as I like to be directed and to foster a work environment I've found helpful as an actor. It's really when I started directing the actors and we clicked, that I gained in confidence, and knew I'd be fine going forward.
Can you tell me a little bit about If We Smarten Up, how did this film come about?
The film is based on a real event that was related to me by my mum years ago. The protagonist is based on a real person, who used to live in the same apartment block as my gran in Bucharest. Her story immediately gripped me. It felt like a metaphor for Romania, in a way. I knew early on that I wanted to tell Maria's story, I just didn't know how or which medium to use.
"Sometimes changing something in your script will actually make it pop."
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
The inspiration was a real-life event of this live-in maid finding herself homeless in old age and moving into the communal broom cupboard, much to the dismay of her former neighbours, who eventually kicked her out by changing the locks.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?
As I didn't grow up in Romania and had no ties to the film industry there, it took some time to find my footing. Once I met Irina Malcea, the producer, everything fell into place. It took 7 years though! Initially, I tried to find a producer in Luxembourg, where I grew up. After many rewrites and meetings without any concrete outcome, I gave up. I felt very strongly about the way I wanted to tell this story. About two years ago, I entered a screenwriting contest and when I won a cash prize, it gave me the freedom to do the film as I'd envisaged it. I decided to look for a Romanian producer and now here I am!
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
No. That's not to say everything went as planned or that I didn't learn anything new. On the contrary. I've learned a tremendous amount about the whole process, which will inform everything I do next.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I've always been preoccupied with storytelling. I guess it's about trying to cling on to something, attempting to find some order in situations where meaning eludes me. Take Maria, the protagonist. What happens to her is a great injustice and there's no rhyme or reason to it. By fictionalising her story, I guess I'm attempting to inscribe her into the fabric of collective storytelling. To leave a trace. Essentially, it's like carving your name into a rock - Maria was here.
Is there any advice you have been given that has really helped you?
Be really well prepared. Know your scenes inside out. Character motivations, arcs.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
They should tell the stories they feel compelled to, in whatever manner they feel appropriate, for as long as it is a pleasure and not a burden.
What tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Stick to your guts, but also be open to change. It's a tricky line to tread. Sometimes changing something in your script will actually make it pop. Sometimes changing something will not be relevant. Ask yourself then if it's worth it. Whenever I get given an artistic piece of feedback, I ask myself: is this helping me tell the story at hand? Or is it about how that person would tell the story?
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from If We Smarten Up?
I hope they'll be moved, laugh a little, perhaps meditate on old age and where we're headed.