A film about a woman who has ambitions to use her 24-hour freedom pass from jail to settle some scores and more, Bogdan George Apetri’s OUTBOUND falls comfortably within the recent output of distinctive, and for the most part – excellent, Romanian cinema. Which means that Apetri has created a film about a character that is anything but comfortable within her surroundings or the hand she’s been dealt, yet she WILL deal with it in her own single-minded way. Apetri also co-wrote the script (adapted from an early script written by 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS director Cristian Mungiu) with Tudor Voican, drawing inspiration from a true-life story and changing the gender of the lead in the process.
It is spare, stark, and straight-forward storytelling crafted by the Columbia Film School grad, who came to the states following a brief stint as a criminal defense lawyer in his native Romania. The film has been a festival favorite, winning awards at Thessaloniki, Warsaw, Viennale and Locarno – many of which for the startling performance by lead actress Ana Ularu. And now Apetri has his second New Directors/New Films experience, following last year’s THREE BACKYARDS, for which he co-produced, as well as serving as the visual consultant and second unit cinematographer.
1) What was it about the true life inspiration behind the film’s story that inspired you to rework Cristian Mungiu’s original screenplay for OUTBOUND?
The idea that one's whole life can truly depend on the actions of a single day. We almost never experience this kind of extreme situation in our normal lives.
2) You have said that the entire film stands on the shoulders of actress, Ana Ularu who was cast on the very last day following months of auditions. What was it about her that made her the immediate and obvious choice for the part?
In the first minute, the electricity in her eyes, the strength and determination in her stare, which was almost magnetic – that was just what this part needed. From there on, her acting.
Ana Ularu plays the role of 'Matilda' in OUTBOUND.
3) How do you feel changing the gender of the main character from male to female changed the dynamic of the story?
The dynamic of any story springs primarily from the nature of the dramatic conflict, and I think having a female lead in this particular film just raises the drama to a higher level.
Some have said that in movies, being truthful is ok, being interesting is even better. I completely agree, and so I thought that it would be much more interesting for the audience to follow a woman, as opposed to a man, deal with the extreme situation outlined by the story – which is already very conflictual in itself.
4) Can you describe how the screenwriting process worked between you and Tudor Voican?
The process went quite smoothly, since we are of about the same age and we both studied filmmaking in North America almost simultaneously (I studied directing in New York, he studied screenwriting in Toronto). So we had a lot in common to start off, even though we hadn't met before we began working on this project. The work itself went as most collaborations of this sort do: lots of talking, lots of writing, lots of re-writing.
5) What specific challenges did you find presented themselves to filming the sex scenes in OUTBOUND?
The actors' no-nudity clause in their contracts was the only real challenge, as we had to figure out a way to shoot the scene around it. Once we did find a solution, I realized I would have probably shot the scene exactly the same way, anyway – it felt right for the characters and for that particular moment in the story.
6) What common characteristic do you feel separates films made in Romania from films made in the rest of the world?
It's a very difficult and complex question to answer. The stock answer on the festival circuit is that they are very bleak, realistic films, featuring authentic characters and dialogue, deeply anchored in the social realities of the country, past or present – which I believe doesn't touch at all on the whole truth (if there is such a thing).
Well, to put it very simply, I think that the best Romanian films show that the directors are not only concerned with telling an interesting story, they are also concerned with how they want to tell it. A lot of films today are just happy to tell a good story – the good Romanian directors care deeply (if not deepest) about what makes cinema work as a medium in itself. Form becomes as important as the content, so basically cinema with its unique characteristics takes over the audience's more conventional way of experiencing a story and alters it, sometimes in a very significant way. You can see this especially in the later films, which are more radical in this respect, like POLICE, ADJECTIVE, AURORA and also even in a hard-to-categorize film like THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU.
That is not to say only Romanian do it, obviously – there are many great directors all over the world who are exploring similar issues. And, at the same time, there is a big diversity among the Romanian directors themselves – they are each walking on their own separate paths.
I know there is a lot of talk about the “New Romanian Wave” lately, but I personally tend to look at films as individual works made by individual artists, and I'm more fascinated by the distinct qualities that make every director or film unique – so I have a harder time relating to cinema movements theories, or putting several films under the same umbrella. Though I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, as always.
George Bogdan Apetri (Director of OUTBOUND)
7) You were a criminal defense lawyer in Romania before coming to the U.S. to study film directing and cinematography. What inspired that career change?
I wanted to become a filmmaker even before going to Law School, so in my mind, there was no sudden career change at all, just a long-term detour en route to my goal. I just thought that I was too young at 19 (when I started my Law studies) to study filmmaking and become a director – I wanted to take my time at that age. In Law School I spent all my free time going to the movies, reading books about filmmaking and in fact it was during that time that I actually started making films. It was very much a planned, natural transition for me.
8) At what point during the filmmaking process do you have fleeting thoughts of missing being in court?
When I'm dealing with no-nudity clauses – God, I hate those. But seriously, never. Not because I disliked being a lawyer, but because I absolutely love every aspect of filmmaking.
Timotei Duma and Ana Ularu in OUTBOUND.
9) Having co-produced THREE BACKYARDS which was a selection last year, what is the best thing about having OUTBOUND screened at New Directors/New Films?
Being in Romania, I missed the screening of THREE BACKYARDS last year, so I'm really happy to be here for OUTBOUND. I moved to New York ten years ago, so the best thing is being able to show my film where my new home is, so to speak.
10) Popcorn or candy?
Neither, I'd rather have coffee when watching a movie.
DVD Extra Film versus digital?
I shot OUTBOUND on 35mm film, but in fact I am a big fan of digital, which I think will surpass the quality of film quite soon. Without any doubt, digital is the future, whether we like it or not.
OUTBOUND will screen at MoMA on Thursday, March 24 at 9:00PM and Saturday, March 26 at 5:30PM at the Walter Reade Theater. Bogdan George Apetri will participate in a Q&A following both screenings.