Memories of dark times – A portrait of the Romanian director Anca Miruna Lazarescu

Anca Miruna Lazarescu
Anca Miruna Lazarescu | © Elise Wilk

Podcast on B5 aktuell. The Intercultural Magazine

By: Eleonore Birkenstock, Heinz Gorr, Elise Wilk, Kristina Dumas, Dagmara Dzierzan

The film director Anca Miruna Lazarescu experienced Romania when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. She came to Germany in the early 1990s with her parents and siblings right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She still carries the young girl’s confusing experiences, her fears and hopes, in her heart and transforms them into a film language that moves people. Her short film “Silent River” won a number of awards. “The Trip We Took with Dad” was released last year. Now she is shooting her second feature film. Elise Wilk met the director.

Wilk: Timișoara, a city on the western border of Romania. It is 1986. The Cold War is raging; Europe is still divided. Children are talking on the school playground about classmates who have suddenly disappeared, about neighbours who have fled across the Danube to Yugoslavia, about a tulip dealer who gets money from the Federal Republic to bring Romanian Germans to the West. Anca is eight. These are the stories of her youth. In December 1989, the communist dictatorship is overthrown. Shortly after the fall of the Wall, Anca emigrates with her parents to the West, to Germany – a country whose language she learnt in school. Two decades later, while Anca Miruna Lazarescu is studying directing at the Filmhochschule in Munich, the stories of her childhood re-emerge. One of them, about an illegal escape across the Danube during the Ceausescu regime, becomes the most awarded German short film of all time: “Silent River”.

“I really wanted to tell about the time, which I remember very vaguely and yet very intensively: the 1980s. That’s the so-called black or dark period in which I actually spent my childhood,” says film director Anca Miruna Lazarescu. The short film wins more than 80 awards worldwide and is shown at festivals around the world – from Mexico to China. The expectations for the first full-length feature film by Anca Miruna Lazarescu are high. The director decides on a true story that has never let her go, that she simply must tell. This leads to “The Trip We Took with Dad”, which premiered in Munich in 2016. “My dad used to tell me this story very frequently. I was a child and I never understood it and there’s always a lot of quarrelling in our house – we’re from the Balkans so sparks and plates would fly. But whenever it was about this story, a sense of melancholy entered the room and everyone got very quiet.”

In 1968, a Romanian family wants to go on holiday in the GDR. As soon as they arrive, however, Soviet tanks roll in and the borders are closed. The family ends up in a reception centre where they hear the news that a return journey to Romania via East Germany is impossible. Instead, the family receives a 48-hour visa for transit through West Germany and with it the chance to decide whether to stay in the West or return to their native Romania.
The director’s father had to make that decision at the age of eighteen. At home, his girlfriend Nelly was waiting for him. He decided to return. For her.

“And my dad had such a sadness about him and always asked himself what would have been if he had decided differently? So, I grew up with a father who actually regretted this decision for his whole life. And that touched me very deeply, of course, as a filmmaker and also as a person and a daughter.” The screenplay of the feature film “The Trip We Took with Dad” is loosely based on a slightly modified form of this story. It is a film that thrills both critics and audiences. It tours the world in 2016. The premiere in Romania is the most emotional one. The real Nelly, the father’s former girlfriend, is in the audience.

“Pretty soon, my dad and Nelly split up. Nelly was not my mother. I met her while researching the film and asked if she knew that she was at least 50% of the reason my dad had returned. And the interesting thing is, she did not really know that; they never really talked about it because that was all stressful. They were not allowed to even talk about it, simply having a boyfriend who spent 48 hours or more in the West, or as the parents quite rightly said, ‘The boy has issues, keep away from him.’ Those were times that had such incredibly different game rules that it is really very good – considering the anti-EU talks and the question of ‘Should we close the borders again’ – it makes sense to remember how we once lived or how our parents lived.”

The director Anca Miruna Lazarescu is now shooting her second feature film. This time, “Glück ist was für Weicheier” (“Happiness is for Sissies”) is not set in Romania, but in a rural German area, where a girl tries to save the life of her big sister. It is set in the same rural place that Anca moved from the big Romanian city in 1990 at age eleven.

“It’s very much another part of me, but probably a much smaller one, and I’m really excited about this movie because it’s a movie about two sisters and I think it’s a very poetic movie and a movie where I do a lot more of what I want – what’s really on my mind – which is to bring laughter and tears very close and to continue to remain in the narrative tradition in which I grew up.” Today, Anca Miruna Lazarescu is happy about her parents’ decision to move to Germany in 1990. The experience enriched her. Otherwise she would not be the person she is today and would not have so many stories to tell.

A portrait of the Romanian-born film director Anca Miruna Lazarescu by our author Elise Wilk