Florin Serban

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By David Pountain

An intricate and attentive paralleling of two ostensibly disparate worlds, Florin Serban’s Romanian drama Box is a work of unusual precision and refreshing originality. Tracking the day-to-day lives of a young boxer and a married older actress as they sporadically cross paths amidst dealing with the hardships and injustices of their respective bubbles, the film finds poignant insight in discreetly drawn contrasts and the implicit dynamics of social interactions.

Director Florin Serban – whose past achievements include winning the Silver Bear at the Berlinale for 2010’s If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle – shares his thoughts on this uniquely engaging feature.

What was the original idea behind Box?

Box started as a narrative experiment. I took one theme that was visited many times, namely the relation between an older woman and a younger man, and I wanted to see what could bring these two people together other than sex, lust, desire, etc. I wanted to see the mechanism of this type of relation, what is behind the veil and the surface. And little by little I understood that what I was dealing with was a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story for both, regardless of the actual ages of the characters. Later on, I added the stories of each, being careful to pick the same kinds of themes: visited themes, cliché almost. My intention had always been to stay away from narrative twists and turns, so we can concentrate on the characters and their motivations.

The two lives in Box often overlap, contrast and parallel in very understated, indirect ways. Was it important to you that there was restraint to how these characters and their respective worlds interacted?

Everything is being played soft in Box. I wanted everything to have the shyness of the beginnings except for the moments when the two face each other. At one point, they slap each other, and later he asks her if she would marry him. Other than these two moments that push the story forward, everything is underplayed so we can concentrate on asking ourselves about the characters.

Hilda Péter opposite co-star Rafael Florea in Box
Hilda Péter opposite co-star Rafael Florea in Box

The cast consists of a mixture of non-professional and professional actors. Do you feel that there are certain types of roles that are better suited to non-professionals?

It really depends on the role and on the movie. I am not an advocate of using non-professionals rather than professionals. I just feel that in certain stories, for certain characters, there are traits that simply can’t be faked. A certain look in the eyes, the marks that violence leaves in one’s soul, a certain innocence…a lot of things. And then there are other characters that have to be played by professional actors. If you need a certain intensity, a particular rhythm, if the camera choreography is a complicated one etc., then you need to work with professionals.

How do you feel that the film’s visual style supports the themes of the film?

I think it does it quite well. We worked a lot to get this precise visual expression, both in shooting and post-production. I actually think I went a bit too far with being so obsessed with every little tone and nuance. One of the dangers of being your own producer (as I was for this film) is that you don’t stop. If I’d had a producer with one eye on the budget, they would have stopped me at some point. In my situation, I only stopped when I felt I got what I got exactly what I was looking for, no matter the costs and the delays. We stayed one year and a half in post-production. A lot for a European art-house film.

Do you feel that the film is optimistic about the futures of its two leads?

Very much so. For me, they both grew up through the story. They are both adults now and they try to get something out of the situation. Just like adults do. I am thinking they will do well as adults from now on: they will cheat, compromise, and always look for the easier way out.

Are you currently working on any other projects?

I am writing and casting for my next feature film, America. It is a script that I started writing 15 years ago and, until recently, I was never happy with how it turned out.

Read our review of Box here.

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