Going beyond

Cristina Flutur speaks about fearlessness, theater, the number of sins, and a magical spot on a sweater.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Cristina Flutur with Anne-Katrin Titze
Cristina Flutur with Anne-Katrin Titze Photo: Lucia Daiana Voiculescu
Cristina Flutur shared the best actress award at Cannes this year with her costar Cosmina Stratan for her portrayal of Alina in Beyond The Hills, Cristian Mungiu's true expedition into the nature of indifference. Alina returns after having worked for two years in Germany and is taken in by Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) a nun living in a small orthodox convent, as a guest in her room, and the two women catch up on their different paths during the time they were apart, the way real people would, not the way movie expositions function.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Cristina, let's start with the beginning of the movie. You are crossing the train tracks right in front of the coming train and then you are crying and you already had me then. Not even five minutes in, and I was fully invested in Alina.

Cristina Flutur: I was very nervous because it was the first day of shooting. In my life. Ever. So I didn't know exactly how I would do it, what would happen with me. So I kind of jumped. You have to, there's no other option.

AKT: The train was timed exactly, I suppose. How many times did you have to cross the train tracks?

CF: I don't remember. But somebody made me a sign when to start walking. I didn't think of the train at all. I just had to get to her (Voichita) - that was my intention and purpose. Many people asked me afterwards about the danger. What danger? Was there a danger? I didn't think of it. And then I thought, oh my god, thank you! It's so much better that I didn't think of it. It would have shown, probably.

AKT: You seem totally fearless at that moment. And you were.

CF: I was. I didn't feel at all that I'm afraid or anything.

AKT: You said this was your first day of filming ever. You have been working in the theatre, right?

CF: Yes, seven years of theatre before I started the film.

AKT: What role did you play just before playing Alina in Beyond The Hills?

CF: We have several performances that we do for several years.

AKT: A repertoire theatre is much more common in Europe than here in the US. Which plays were you in at that time?

CF: I was in Life With An Idiot (composer Alfred Schnikke, libretto by Viktor Erofevev) where I have a very violent aggressive role. Three hours of surrealistic screaming and hard emotions. I also have Chekhov, I have Turandot, and Marie Duplessis (Marguerite Gautier) in The Lady Of The Camellias. She is very soft and gentle. And I have (Vassily Sigarev's) Plasticine where I play a 14 year-old boy.

AKT: You went back to the theater after the filming?

CF: Yes, and I did a new Chekhov immediately after the film. Platonov. I play Sasha and she is very different from Alina. It was such a shift. She is always gentle, submissive and so much in love with her husband.

AKT: Your costumes in Beyond The Hills are very interesting. Those track suits and bulky layers are really unflattering and make a strong impact. Did the clothes help you create Alina physically?

CF: The costumes helped a lot. When I got the phone call from the casting director to come for the audition, he told me that the characters, both of them, are from the orphanage and they don't care about their looks. So just come with your hair unwashed, no make-up, just in your worst shape, physical shape, ever. So I looked in my wardrobe and thought, 'what to pick now?' I have very colorful, kind of feminine clothes. And then I picked that violet pullover, and before putting it on, I was like, 'oh, I have a spot, a little spot here [she points right to the middle of her chest.] I don't have time to wash that - I'll go like this. And then Cristian (Mungiu, the director) told me that he liked so much that I went like, you know, 'I don't care if it's an audition with a director who won the Palme d'Or. He said it's a sign that I was close to the character actually because that's how Alina was.

AKT: That was your grain de beauté, your very unique beauty spot.

CF: Exactly. And we kept the pullover because he liked it so much that we wanted it to be in the film.

AKT: You still have it? Did you ever clean the spot?

CF: I think I did.

AKT: What is your religious background? Were you aware of 464 sins and what St. Basil's prayer is? Or was that new to you?

CF: I didn't know there were so many sins. But I knew there was supposed to be a long list and I knew about St. Basil also. I come from a religious family. My grandparents, especially, are very religious. They go to church and perform all the rituals. So when I read the script for Alina, I had my moments of doubt, whether I should enter this kind of controversial story. But then I realised, I am an actor, I am supposed to understand all sorts of human beings, all sorts of religious background. I am supposed to be tolerant as an actress. I don't think you can do this without accepting that there are so many people who have totally different points of view.

AKT: Did you get closer to Alina's point of view while playing her?

CF: I have to. There is no other way for me. I love all my characters. I am very sentimental about them. I don't think I could play a character without being in love with them. If I would start to judge her, I would be detached, you know, a little bit distant, and then I would be a watcher, not an interpreter. The moment I entered the story, I forgot all my moments of doubt, all my religious background. I had to concentrate only on somebody else.

AKT: Have your grandparents seen the film?

CF: No.

AKT: You don't want them to?

CF: It would be hard for them. They are very simple people living in the countryside. It's hard for them to understand this metamorphosis. It's hard for them to understand that it's not you there. With my parents I tried. I've been trying all these months to explain to them that this is somebody else, who has a different biography, different background, so, no matter what you see her doing, please don't judge her. And don't see me there because it's not me. That's an actor's job.

AKT: And did it work? Did they see it after you won at Cannes?

CF: I was very happy that it worked. They were very emotional about the movie. It was after Cannes, yes. I was happy because they have quite a pure heart, very grounded and they managed to see beyond the religious conflict to get to the more profound levels of the film.

AKT: Your character Alina also has a pure heart.

CF: That's true, she does have a pure heart and I could understand her aggressivity and where it came from. I understand her perfectly.

AKT: I felt the same watching the film. I understand everything she does.

CF: It's a normal way of reacting. I didn't find her crazy, not even a second.

AKT: The ending I found fascinating - that we don't really know when she died. The last time we see you…

CF: … announcing that she's better, that she finally recovered… It's one of the few moments of light in the movie. She doesn't smile at all. She is only in the dark.

AKT: Well, there is nothing to smile about.

CF: That little smile at the end - someone called it the Mona Lisa smile, I liked that - we don't know exactly what she's discovered, but something brought light into her life, just before death.

AKT: And then came your win at Cannes. Did you feel as though a whirlwind took you there?

CF: A little bit. I didn't know how I would react. Maybe I would start shaking. But I didn't. I started being emotional about it later, like two weeks after. I started to have post-Cannes emotion.

AKT: How much did you talk with your director about the backstory, about Pfaff and the orphanage?

CF: We didn't. Everything that I had built in my head and in my little notebook was built inside of me. I didn't talk with Cosmina or Cristian about it. Mainly I like to work like this. I prefer it to be me with the character. When I'm in silence, the character is talking a lot to me and I get a lot of information from her.

AKT: How is it for you seeing the movie?

CF: I first saw it in Cannes. And it was strange, I was nervous about it. I thought I would cry. I was surprised that I didn't see myself, I saw Alina.

AKT: Exactly what you told your parents to do.

Cristina Flutur's Alina is heartbreaking, often resembling a much, much smaller child, a very clear headed one in her awareness of injustice.

Cristian Mungiu also directed the Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.

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