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Keeping It Reel in Bucharest: On the set of OCTAVE

May 3, 2016


(photo by: Adi Marineci)


As a film enthusiast, what I most desire in my viewing experiences is to be transported to a different environment as I watch a film unfold. If I can form a connection with the characters or subject matter in the film I’m watching, well that certainly elevates the viewing experience. This desire took a surreal form early last month, when I was physically transported to Bucharest, Romania, as part of an invitation I accepted to visit the set of “Octave”, a film currently in production. Little did I know I would form such a memorable connection with those involved in the making of the film.

The whirlwind weekend in Bucharest was a trip of ‘first times’ for me. The first time in Europe and, therefore, Romania. The first time taking a castle tour of Transylvania (but that’s another story for another time) and, most importantly – the first time visiting the set of a film in production. Needless to say, each day felt unbelievable and I’ve been thinking of my short time there daily since my return. I had an amazing time taking in the sights and sounds of Romania as well as building friendships I hope to maintain in the years to come.

I never would’ve went on this trip if the synopsis of “Octave” didn’t appeal to me. The story, co-written by two long-time friends, James Olivier and director Serge Ioan Celebidachi (son of acclaimed conductor/composer Sergiu Celibidachi), follows an elderly man named Octave (played by Romanian actor, Marcel Iureș), who, after visiting the home of his youth, finds himself unexpectedly reflecting on his past and present life. The story is promoted as a nostalgic story involving time (and time travel), love and rediscovering roots, embodied by the innocence of intimate relationships, as seen from a surreal and impressionistic tone. Obviously the opportunity to visit a place I’ve never been before was attractive, but the main draw and curiosity for me was this intriguing story.

The other draw was learning that Italian cinematographer Blasco Giurato was attached to lens the film. Seeing as how he photographed one of my all-time favorite foreign films, “Cinema Paradiso”, I found myself very impressed and intrigued all the more by “Octave”.

The actual set visit took place on Monday, April 11th, just outside of downtown Bucharest in Buftea (Ilfov), on the vast property owned by Bucharest Film Studios. It wasn’t just me, however – I was joined by five other journalists/critics: Lee Shoquist (another critic from Chicago), Dave Trombone (from Atlanta),  Alessandra De Tommasi and Nicola Falcinella (both from Rome, Italy) and Joseph Proimakis (from Athens, Greece). All six of us were invited by producer Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi (wife of the film’s director) to take part in a foreign press junket on the set, in order to build an awareness of the film, which will be released in 2017 (most likely starting out on the festival circuit).

When we arrived on set, we were aware that we would be given about forty-five minutes of sit-down time with Marcel Iureș, Serge Ioan Celebidachi, James Olivier, Blasco Giurato, Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi and executive producer, Cristina Dobritoiu – but first, we were allowed to quietly witness a scene being filmed. The actual scene was filmed in a nearby room, where we could hear Giurato talking to his camera operator, Fabio Lanciotti (a frequent collaborator with Giurato, having worked on “Cinema Paradiso” and a 2002 “Doctor Zhivago” TV mini-series) in their effort to make everything come together for the right shot. Fortunately, I was sitting next to Alessandra De Tommasi, who could translate the Italian we were hearing. All six of us were sitting behind two monitors that were being studied by both Olivier and continuity editor, Andra Barbuica – proof that many pairs of eyes are needed when cameras roll on a set.

Seeing and hearing a scene being filmed was obviously an unexpected treat, since it gave us an understanding and appreciation for how the crew worked together. It didn’t take long to realize this was a symbiotic and committed group that has formed a strong creative and familial bond.



screenwriter James Olivier and continuity editor Andra Barbuica oversee filming of “Octave” 


After observing this scene being filmed, everyone gathered in the living room that was built for the movie, with the crew circled opposite myself and the other writers. The following is the full transcription of our discussion (which was in English, except for Giurato, who had translator on hand) of “Octave”….


Alessandra De Tommasi: Why do you think it is so appealing, this movie, to the international audience?

Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi: It will represent Romania in a better light, that’s one. Second, it has great casting, a great cinematographer, it has a great director, a great music composer, it has big names. I think it’s part of a New Wave, hopefully, of Romanian cinema that will show Romania in a positive light abroad. I think, also, everybody would like to see a beautiful Romania.

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: For me, it started very early. So, its a story about life – and the Romanian aspect came much later. We wrote in French, thirty years ago – if it’s possible (co-screenwriter, James Olivier laughs) – and we had opportunities to do things, but it wasn’t right time or combination. Then we translated it in English and tried to do something in America and it didn’t go exactly as planned and suddenly, my wife said, “why don’t you do it here?” And it seemed very difficult and almost impossible – yet she succeeded in getting things going and Marcel Iures seemed to be the obvious choice if we wanted to go that way. We put a bit of historical background, to put it in context of this country, which actually made it even more interesting because it means that the main character revisits his childhood house without contact for so many years – almost fifty years of Communism and he didn’t have access to it. His memory is even fresher and he’s immediately sent back to his childhood and it makes the impact even more interesting. So, we found  we found ourselves here and very happy to contribute something different about Romania. It wasn’t the plan, but it became the plan and we embrace it.

Lee Shoquist: My question is for the group really and has to do with the themes of the story – you know, we’re talking about birth, life, death, loss, nostalgia, parents, children, first loves, lost loves, etc. We’re talking a lot about the Romanian dimension to the film and where it fits in Romania cinema. For me, it seems to be a culturally universal story and a human, emotional story. I wonder if you can talk about how it fits in Romanian cinema and the universality of the topics?



Lee Shoquist and Joseph Proimakis listen intently during the foreign press junket (photo by: Adi Marineci)


Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Yeah, well, you know, everybody gets older and you suddenly realize that that childhood is somewhere gone and your innocence is gone with it. There’s that contrast, when you’re suddenly at the end of your life and you sort of balance everything. It’s a privilege to have access to those – or not – but, in this case, it’s a way of playing with the consciousness of an older man and re-understanding or re-interpreting what you lived when you were a child and solving a lot of things that you didn’t understand from your parents point of view or all kinds of things. And in this case there is a love story – a platonic love story in the film, which is one of the main plots. And I do believe it’s universal in that respect. It’s facing age, nostalgia, childhood – it’s all those themes that, you know, links everything and should be quite universal – that’s the appeal to me, at least. That’s what I think drove us to the story.

James Olivier: As Serge said, we actually started writing the film when we were eighteen or nineteen years old. And, for a lot of people, you feel that’s the stage where you’re most moving from childhood to adulthood. And those beautiful memories of childhood are – they’re in your memory, but you’re not going to be able to access them so freely. And so, this idea of a transition from one stage of life to the next one – and, as Serge said, the lost youth and the lost childhood – um, was very compelling to us. As we grew older, we matured and the themes matured in some way, but there was always this idea of moving from one stage of life to the next, without being able to dip back into those beautiful childhood memories.

Lee Shoquist: They say nostalgia can be a wonderful or a horrible thing  – why do you think that is? Is it different depending on where you are in your life?

James Olivier: It’s both. I mean, I have a lot of shared experiences with Serge in particular and I think that’s why that friendship is ever-enduring, because it enables you to relive those moments together that you lived. And those moments are very pleasurable, but there’s a tinge of pain as well that you just cannot go back. So, it’s both – it’s pleasure tinged with pain, with the endless pain that it’s gone.

David J. Fowlie: You talked about how you both wrote the screenplay when you were in your late teens/early twenties – it seems like such a personal storyline. Did you have certain men or women in your lives when you were growing up that had influenced or informed you about this story? If so, were you thinking about there lives when you wrote this?

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: You know, I had an older father. So, my father had me, I think when he was about fifty-six year-old. As an adolescent I had a father who looked like a grandfather. So, I was very familiar with getting old and the perspective of that age. So, it was very, when producers were asking me early on ‘why aren’t you? – this theme is not for your age’ – why are you doing this?’ This is actually what my environment was about, so I was very much taught by that and the confrontation of how you look back at, you know, childhood versus old age and getting near the end and that concept of time was in my father’s theories, which interests us – the concept of time, really, and the unity of time. And so, that was very motivating.



Actor Marcel Iureș and director Serge Ioan Celebidachi (photo by: Adi Marineci)


And also, Marcel has based – and he can probably talk more about that aspect – but, there is an inspiration on my father, in the way he’s perceived and approached the role, which we discussed.  That wasn’t necessarily – I saw it more as a reversal of old age, uh, a person that is aging – but, filling the role with my father’s perspective as a musician and his rich life. I mean, I think Marcel took that line and embraced it to try and embody the character. We discussed it and I think it was a very interesting way to go. It’s not necessarily a biography or anything like that, but it’s sort of fitting some main threads in that.

Joseph Proimakis: Question for the director and for the producers – international audiences have a very specific preconception on what Romanian cinema talks about or looks like. Not just the themes, but also the look and the style, and especially the festival audiences, which is how films try and get to the international audience. So, I’m wondering, is that going to be possible for you guys to break, getting into the festival circuit or is it something you’re not interested about?

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Very interested and totally possible. We’re just presenting a film that has this opportunity to show a different Romania, like Adela said – and I’m happy to provide that. I can’t comment too much on Communism time, because I wasn’t there. It is true that – you say ‘Romanian’ and they’re going to expect in a cliche form, some kind of dark, depressing, corruption, all these things are attached, unfortunately, to the country and I am very happy that this film actually has a Romanian tag, but yet does not touch any of those subjects. So, suddenly, you discover that Romania has another face and maybe there is sun in this country and happy, normal people living in it. It’s very nice to go back in 1932, when you had the Grand Romania, which was the “Little Paris”, you know, big Bucharest looked fantastic – you know, when you go to these flashbacks and you see a bit of the opulent Romania – it’s nice to remember that this country had a wonderful past as well. We can be proud of it, as well.

Blasco is painting this as a marvelous rich painting, so it fits a total different approach to what has been expected so far and that will create its own. That will create a total, you know, a difficulty somewhere, to find in the festival route, for sure. But, we’re telling a story, you know, and I think it’s a beautiful Romanian story. It’s a challenge, but it’s a beautiful one, I think.

Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi: Yeah, but Blasco tells us everyday that this movie is going to be at all the festivals….

James Olivier: The difference with what’s been done before could be the selling point. It could be what makes it stand out from all the other Romanian films. So, I see that as a strength.

Dave Trombore: So, this film travels through different time periods. It also seems like it has a lot of inspiration from artwork and music and a lot of artistic themes, so how does that impact that visual style of this film? What is the visual palette used to make the transition from each of those different decades and just your style in general?

Blasco Giurato: For me, this film is a miracle. Because, since I’ve read it, I’ve totally fallen in love with this project. This film is telling a story that concerns the whole world – the oppressive bureaucracy, the human rights struggle – and all this is told with a great sense of storytelling. The other miracle for me was to meet such a great director. In my long experience, I can now feel when a film is important. This film is an important one for sure, and for Romania, more important. The effort and the build-up to this film was unique because it enabled me to be able to realize what I imagined. I would love to take this whole cast, crew and team with me.

The discovery of Romania was a great one, for me. It’s one of the countries I didn’t know in this part of Europe. So, it’s been a great experience. The visual impact was prepared in detail with Serge, who has this dark side about the past, but now it will explode like a blooming spring. I think miracles can happen and for me, this film is a miracle.



cinematographer Blasco Giurato, translator Maria Rotar and producer Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi 


Joseph Poimakis: So, you mentioned that you implemented parts of Romania history into the original script – how familiar were you with this history and were there elements that you found that surprised you that you didn’t know about?

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Well, I am very familiar, because my family comes from here and I have uncles and family who have stayed, unfortunately, through the Communist era. So, I heard many stories and was always in contact through my parents. And unfortunately, since the end of Communism, I’ve been myself, struggling and fighting to try and get things from my grandparents here and there and twenty years later I’m still in it. That’s just beyond the point, but when you see the main character at the beginning, struggling through fifty years, trying to get his house back – that process, you know, the different steps of beauracracy and the justice system – the comment is not coming from this guy, it’s pretty intended. But we’re not focusing too much on it, but it’s a little parenthesis about how heavy and how heavy and structured and flexible it is.

Marcel Iureș: I was there. It was enough. (they laugh)

Lee Shoquist: Marcel, a question for you. I think when you read the script, you said it was one of the most beautiful roles you’d ever read and it was sort of a gift for you to play this role – when you play a role like this at this particular point in your life and in your career, is there a summation of feelings that you have that relate to this particular character or role? What are you bringing from your life and many of the experiences of Octave in the film?

Marcel Iureș: It’s not a summation. It’s just the beginning. The beginning of a new way. We talked first (looks at Serge) – three years ago? Like Blasco said, it was a kind of love at first sight. It’s about me, or me next – next year, next decade. It’s a part of you, it’s a part of everybody. That’s the way it is. I remember me trying to figure out what’s going on when I’m dying (laughs), that was twenty years ago when I was forty-five, at that time. That’s the way I’m crossing right now. I had a brief feeling that I would have this kind of biography of this kind of character. It doesn’t matter what’s the name of this character – his father could be my  father, it could be my father. It could be anyone. So, that’s the way it is.

And it’s absolutely peculiar in Romanian film visage. I’ve never read something like that in the last twenty-five years. Which is something. It’s kind of huge tonally; a challenge. I have to rediscover me in this kind of way, which is absolutely new to me.

Blasco Giurato: It’s the same thing that happened to me, what Marcel said. When Serge told me about the cast, I didn’t know Marcel. I went on the internet to look him up and found a monument. It was like another sign that I had to do this film – he was comparable to Mastroianni. Marcel’s career is huge. Afterwards, after working with him, I understand how he managed to enter the character. I understand his sensibility, his way of moving. Believe me, it’s a huge pleasure to work with Marcel and with the others, all the other actors – they are extraordinary. I found here a very important acting school.

Marcel Iureș: Wow. Thank you.

Blasco Giurato: Really unbelievable. And for me, doing this kind of work, when I see an actor reacts to a director who gives an input and the actor gives it back – exactly – gives back exactly what the director intended, I fall in love. It could be a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter (everyone laughs). It’s fantastic.

David J. Fowlie: Here’s a question for anybody who wants to take it. It seems like the character, Octave, has  an intention, initially, to go back to his home, but there’s an unexpected journey that he takes. And just like you are all making a film together, which is a personal thing, much like the personal, unexpected journey he’s taking….Can any of you share what kind of unexpected personal journeys you’ve shared since filming has begun?

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: That’s pretty powerful….

Marcel Iureș: A long story….



Marcel Iureș discusses his role in “Octave” (photo: Adi Marineci)


Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Well, I was hoping. You always hope when you bring great talents together – you’re hoping that whatever your vision is – ah, I position myself as a director who wants to serve, is trying to serve a beautiful story. And as a director, my job was and is still to try and bring the best of each department, each person – and get great input. I’m thinking about Marcel, I’m thinking about Blasco and Vladimir, behind the music – and so far, the unexpected is, well it was the hope that whatever we bring on-screen is transcending any of the simple vision I had at the beginning to try and serve the story. And so far, we’re halfway through the film – about 60% filmed already and I’ve just watched some sequences together and I must say that, whether it’s come from Marcel, whether it’s come from Blasco, we’re bouncing off each other some ideas, some things and I’m finding myself finding a new shot, a new idea, a new move. Or, because a problem arises, suddenly you adapt and it’s twice as good as your original shot was conceived. So, I’m very thankful for having the input of people who are bringing their own worlds to the story. So, the unexpected is that it’s just even better than I would’ve dreamt of, so far and I am extremely thrilled with what I am seeing and the potential is just limitless in terms of serving the story. That’s my unexpected – it was the hope that transcended every aspect.

Blasco Giurato: For me, it’s a feeling that took me back to the best movies I’ve ever made. I rediscovered my importance in a movie. Because, in the past, you do a project with love and passion, but never in such a close relationship with director. So, it took me back to the great movies I’ve made. It’s like going back to work with a great cinema that I had the great chance to work in. It’s been a rediscovery of myself. I wanted to end my career. This will be my last film. It’s my goodbye to….(Marcel and Serge laugh)

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: He thinks!

Blasco Giurato: It will be my testament. But the best film. I tend to be like a young man of twenty-four, more or less. I thank everyone and feel like I’m part of a great, great, important thing.

Marcel Iureș: What a coincidence. I did the same. I said “No” to do two American movies in the meantime….

Blasco Giurato: Me too!

Marcel Iureș: Yeah.

James Olivier: (laughs) Maybe they were the same ones (all laugh).




Marcel Iureș: They will come back. I hope. Anyway, when you have a true story – you know, a good story – that’s capturing you. And we discover its relaxing. It’s quite relaxing and creative to discover each other on the same subject. It’s fantastic. I never met Blasco. I knew him. I never met James. I met him (points to Serge) twice before, occasionally we’d have some lunch and dinner – talking about everything and nothing in the meantime. I’m an actor. I’m so keen and fond of any kind of show, professionally, humanly, coming from Blasco. I’m fascinated with the way he makes everything, his, you know, tuning. Everything. Every little deal. I’ve never crossed this situation before in my life. So, I’m lucky and privileged.

Dave Trombore: We actually saw that teamwork and that tuning on display in that last scene that we actually got a chance to….

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: That’s just a headache! (all laugh) And you witnessed exactly the opposite of what we normally do – which is, you know, we have long movements and here we’re doing a very peculiar, very precise thing that needs to be a transition to a real train and it’s been a bit of a headache….

Dave Trombore: But it was fun to watch all the same….

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Yeah yeah, exactly. There was a sense of family. The human experience has been fantastic, if that’s what you were referring to at the beginning – it’s been beyond any exceptions. Absolutely brilliant. And you feel like you are doing the same film, because you’re bouncing things off each other and you think “of course, that’s the way” and you’re putting the puzzle back together. And you realize that it’s the most beautiful puzzle that you can ever imagine.

Lee Shoquist: Can you be a little specific about the tone of the film you’re going for? We’ve heard a lot about the themes in the film and the universality of the topic and the obvious kind of fraternity in the group here to get the film made. I think in the production notes, the term ‘lightness of touch’ was used or some variation. But, we’ve seen so many childhood stories in movies that take a loving look at child, a painful look at childhood – what is the tone that you’re going for with this film?

 Serge Ioan Celebidachi: We’re trying to position ourselves in Octave’s point of view – who arrives quite depressed and quite turned down and….

James Olivier: Reluctant….

Serge Ioan Celebidachi: Yeah. At the end of his life and this is why, after fighting for so long, he’s just decided to sell that place that he fought for so long. So, it’s a dark piece to begin with. He’s dark himself. Not much hope. And it kind of takes the Romanian audience where they would expect you – quite gray. We were praying for rain at the beginning when he’s coming back and it’s all sort of dark, grayish, no color. And pretty much the palette of colors will change as he starts to rediscover things and through that it’s eye-opening and colorizing. It’s about finding that three dimension the you may have lost in your life. The tone is, well, we’re going from dark to light, paint wise, and it’s a sense of hope and a sense of positivity that we’re trying to visualize and experience through the eyes of the character as much as possible, ourselves. So, you’re not sure at the beginning which film you’ve entered, because it’s quite somber and it could be sinister, you’re not too sure. And suddenly, hopefully, the story takes you and Octave takes you with him – and subconsciously because he’s not very sure what’s happening in the beginning and so does the audience perhaps and I’m trying to go along from subconscious to subconscious and experience something that would bring hope and light and color. We’re trying to be quite subtle about it and we’ll see whether we do achieve that. That’s been the objective.



Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi, producer of “Octave”  (photo by: Adi Marineci)


Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi: And I would like to add my perspective as well. I’m the youngest here, I think. When I read the script – I read the script first (except for the director and James, obviously) and I completely fell in love with it. I believe in introspection. I believe it takes strength to look into yourself – to go back – because like Jim said, it can hurt, it can cause joy. And I completely fell in love with it. And I never planned to produce this movie. It just happened. So, it was not like “Oh, I’m gonna produce this movie!” When I read a beautiful script that took me, like forty years from now, fifty years from now – it just, I don’t know, I think it helped me, working on this movie, it helped me literally become a better person. I know it sounds very girly, but I think it draws something in my heart. Something very beautiful and this is how I decided we have to do it. I went to Marcel Iureș and I gave the script – because when I read it, knowing Marcel Iureș, like many of us – I really really saw him in this role and from there, I must say, things unfolded. So, regarding your questions, Joseph, how are we approach festivals, indeed we’re expecting a different type of Romanian movie – I must say, like Blasco says “miracle”, it is true. Somehow things unfolded for us and I think that side (the festivals) will unfold as well, because it’s a beautiful story and we’re missing beauty – not just in cinema, but in our lives and you cannot not resonate with something beautiful because it’s food for the soul, which is how I would define this movie.

Joseph Proimakis: I understand, budget-wise, it’s one of the bigger productions in Romania. So, would you guys like to talk a little about expectations, in regards with the budget? Both from your side, what you would expect for this film to be a success and from the view of the local press – are they very interested in what’s going on in this big-budget production? Is there pressure from the audience with regards to how big this thing should be when it comes to screens?

Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi: Well, this is definitely a concern more for when we start to build our strategies this fall. There are high expectations. I wouldn’t like to go into numbers, not to jinx anything. But there are high expectations, especially when you look at the cast that we have and with Blasco Giurato and Vladimir Cosmo for music, I think there is a movie that will bring people to cinema, at least in Romania. In Romania, you have titans, literally – you have Marcel Iureș, Victor Rebengiuc and Andi Vasluianu – they are three of the biggest names. You cannot get better than that. Seriously, I don’t think it’s possible. Because you have the biggest names at different ages – Victor Rebengiuc is in his eighties, Marcel Iureș is in his sixties and Andi Vasluianu is in his forties. And then you have fantastic actresses and you have children, you have amazing children – we have Alessia Tofan who’s playing Ana, she’s an incredible child, extremely gifted and we have Eric (Aradit) playing young Octave, who has a bit more experience.

For Romania, I’m 1000% sure – I’m putting everything I have (laughs) on it – it will be a huge success. And I think we just have to find the right avenue for each territory. Each country has its own sensitivities and way of presenting it. And in the end, it’s a selling process, so you have to present right in each territory. I believe it will work outside Romania pretty well. It’s on 35 mm and you have all these big names, so it’s going to be interesting. At least, curiosity will be up and from there, things will unfold again.



(back row)  Alessandra De Tommasi, Joseph Proimakis Dave Trombore, David J. Fowlie, Marcel Iureș, Serge Ioan Celebidachi, Blasco Giurato and Lee Shoquist (front row) Cristina Dobritoiu, James Olivier, Adela Vrinceanu Celebidachi and Nicola Falcinella  (photo by: Adi Marineci)


After the junket, we all had lunch together on the studio grounds, which brought on even further discussion about the handling of the themes and tone of the film. These were very open, friendly and relaxed discussions that, honestly, could’ve continued for hours. But there was still work to be done on the film, so we said goodbyes to the talent involved and went off to a scheduled guided tour of the massive studio. So fascinated was I by our time on set, that I could’ve easily returned and continued observing the shoot. But, the studio tour was quite eye-opening – more on that soon.

“Eye-opening” is a good phrase to sum up a trip I feel very fortunate to have been a part of. It definitely provided me with the same fulfillment I receive whenever I watch an immersive film that opens my mind and understanding of people and the world they live in. Throughout the entire weekend there were surreal moments when I found myself in disbelief that I was walking in Romania; that I was invited.

As a film critic, I spend hours and hours typing away alone. Rarely do I have an idea who my readers are or whether or not my work is even read. I’m used to it. On this trip though, I felt surrounded by peers who can relate to that (although most of them had more experience attending such events), yet in an environment where we were valued and appreciated. I remain forever grateful for this invitation and the incredible opportunity I had to see Bucharest and meet some amazing people.

At this time, principal photography on “Octave” has finished and they are now heading into post-production. My goal is to remain updated on the film’s progress and discover what further role I can have in promoting an awareness of it.



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