24-10-2018

Fighting a country’s fate in Thou Shalt Not Kill

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Gabi Virginia Șarga and Cătălin Rotaru’s first feature Thou Shalt Not Kill had its world premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival. It’s a drama about a pediatric surgeon who finds out that the disinfection system in his hospital is broken, which leads to the spreading of dangerous diseases. Based on true events, the film follows protagonist Christian in his fight against corruption in Romania.

At the screening of your film yesterday, I noticed people were very involved with the story. Reactions were strong.

Gabi Virginia Șarga: Yesterday at the Q&A there was a local surgeon who told us that, here in Poland, it is the same story. Authorities hide true statistics of bacteria in hospitals.

Why do you think it happens in Romania and Poland (and, presumably, in other Eastern European countries)? Is it because of the post-Soviet corrupted system?

Cătălin Rotaru: Of course, the communist era in Romania left some marks. But the corruption there has historical roots, and I mean it started 200 or 300 years ago. Everybody buys and sells everything in Romania.

Gabi Virginia Șarga: When the scandal broke out, the press uncovered how many people took money to cover this scheme.

How long ago did this happen?

Gabi Virginia Șarga: We found about this scheme 3 years ago, but the problem started 13 years ago. And for 10 years nobody talked about it – people were dying in the hospitals and we thought it was the flu. Because what could possibly go wrong if you go to the hospital?

How did the scandal end? Was anyone fired or prosecuted?

Cătălin Rotaru: Shortly after the scandal erupted, the head of this company [the one providing defective disinfection substances] committed suicide. The prosecutor arrested two of the top managers of the company, and right now the minister is trying to put an end to this scandal by covering all the tracks. The representatives of the company are now in the court. The important thing is that among the 350 hospitals that bought supplies from that company, only 92 hospitals testified against it in court. And once the hearings started, only two of them were still up for it. The others just don’t want to fight.

In one of your comments about the film you said that it is “fiction, but a personal one”. Could you please elaborate on that?

Gabi Virginia Șarga: We are very angry, like many people in Romania right now. We regularly take part in manifestations along with protesters who have been fighting for almost three years against corruption in the country.

Cătălin Rotaru: The fiction in the film connects to reality. We did our research, talked to the doctors, found out all the statistics etc. Characters in our film are somehow “designed” after doctors we have met.

Gabi Virginia Șarga: All the numbers in our film are real, we didn’t make them up. The dialogue is partly taken from real interviews with the real doctors.

 And yet you still made a fiction film, not a documentary. When you created the character of the pediatric surgeon, was it more important for you to address the issue in every detail or you followed the development of the character?

Gabi Virginia Șarga: Both. On the one hand, we wanted to show all those numbers and facts for everyone to know what happened. But it’s not the only aspect. We also wanted to tell a story of how a man or a woman fights with corruption. It’s a universal story. Our main question is how far you can go in fighting the system.

Cătălin Rotaru: It’s an evolutionary process – we start from facts and reality, then move to something beyond reality. What we are interested in is the true nature of human beings. What is their relation to evil, and what is the origin of evil itself.

This is a metaphysical question, dealing with people’s beliefs and religion. I remember the key scene from your film, taking place in an apple-tree garden, and there are plenty of Biblical references in it. The main character’s name is Christian.

Gabi Virginia Șarga: Yes, and all other characters’ names have a meaning, too. The child who dies is called Ovidus, which means “the man who is sacrificed”. Carbunariu, the family name, means “coal”. It’s a reference to the boy’s parents, who fight only for a little while and then give up.

Cătălin Rotaru: This is a typical Romanian family. They have the typical Romanian fatalism. “God didn’t want him to live” – the father says. It’s in our historical roots – to embrace our fate.

Gabi Virginia Șarga: We are interested in our relationship with God. Our first short film is about a religious man who meets a guy claiming to be Jesus.

Cătălin Rotaru: We don’t what to deal with the church specifically. There’s no church as an institution in our film.

You said that you question the origin of evil. What do you think it is? Do you follow Hannah Arendt’s stance of banality of evil? Or is evil something else entirely?

Cătălin Rotaru: We don’t answer that question in our film. Christian is not an atheist, he’s just indifferent. He doesn’t want to look up to the sky, because he’s interested in solving problems down here. But his actions are entirely Christian.

How did you get the money for a film like this?

Gabi Virginia Șarga: It was a big problem for us to find money for this film because nobody wanted to be involved in this project. Potential sponsors were frightened that they would have problems with the authorities if they supported us.

But many people agreed to work on the production for free – actors, for instance. So we could use the money we had to get a good camera.

Did you receive money from the Romanian Film Fund?

Cătălin Rotaru: Yes, we got state funding. But it wasn’t enough, so we looked for sponsors. At first they were very enthusiastic, but after reading the synopsis they backed out.