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Fighting a country’s fate in Thou Shalt Not Kill

FIPRESCI Warsaw Critics Project 2018 2018-10-24

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.

FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Călin Boto is a Romanian emergent film critic and the editor-in-chief of Film Menu, a film magazine edited by students of the Film University in National University of Film and Drama in Bucharest (UNATC). He has written articles for several cultural publications such as Dilema Veche,Dissolved Magazine, SUB25 and he coordinates Film Menu’s weekly cineclub. At the moment he’s working on a bachelor's degree on the films and film criticism of Jonas Mekas.

Barbara Majsa was born and raised in Hungary, but currently resides in Sweden and attends Stockholm University for Cinema Studies. She has worked as a journalist since 2009, and has covered several film festivals. Barbara is the managing editor at Cinema Scandinavia, where she interviews film-makers and focuses her work on artistic and cultural products that reflect upon society - films concerning social, societal, economic and political issues.

Yulia Kuzischina is a film journalist, based in Moscow. She studied visual culture at Higher School of Economics and later started to write for two film-related websites, RussoRosso and Kinomania.ru. Currently she also works at a film sales company Ant!pode Sales & Distribution. Her main field of interest is Eastern European cinema.

Tomáš Hudák  is a programmer and a film critic based in Bratislava, Slovakia. Programming at independent cultural centre A4 – Space for contemporary culture, which focus on challenging and experimental art, is his main occupation throughout a year. He is also associated with IFF Cinematik in Pieštany, Bratislava IFF, and Film Festival 4 Elements in Banská Štiavnica. Regularly writing for film magazine Kinečko, his texts also appeared in other publications such as Senses of Cinema, Tess Magazine etc. In past, he worked as a film archivist at Slovak Film Institute and his archival research resulted in two papers on local film history.

Daria Badior is a film critic and a Culture Editor of LB.ua, one of Ukraine’s biggest online newspapers. Focuses on writing about contemporary Ukrainian cinema. Also she co-curates a project on LB.ua named Short-list about young Ukrainian filmmakers. Since 2017 takes part
in selecting films for Kyiv Film Critics Week, a new film festival held at the end of October. A member of FIPRESCI.

Łukasz Mańkowski Half of the Asian Cinema focused blog ‘Referat Filmowy’, Japanese Studies and Film Theory graduate from Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, specializing in Asian Film. Occasionally photographer, translator and theatre-film journalist who simply loves ramen. Previously member of 5 Flavours Film Festival People’s Jury, FEFF Udine Student Campus and EIFF Student Critics Competition.

TUTORS of FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Yoana Pavlova is a Bulgarian writer, researcher, and programmer currently based in Paris.Her field of work includes cinema, VR, digital culture, and the New East. She is the foundingeditor of Festivalists.com (a playform for experimental media criticism), with bylines fornumerous print and online publications in Bulgarian, English, and French. Contributor to thefollowing books: Cinemas of Paris (2016, St Andrews Film Studies), Eastern Promises (2014,Festival Internacional de Cine de Donostia – San Sebastián), The Bulgarian Nouvelle Vague(2012, Edno).

Tommaso Tocci is based in Italy, where he works as a film critic and translator covering filmfestivals across Europe for international publications. He has also worked for BerlinaleTalents and for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and he currently serves as Co-Programmer for the Saas-Fee Film Festival in Switzerland.