I spoke with Pavel Brăila (b. 1971, Chișinău, The Republic of Moldova) one afternoon. We chatted about art, politics, Timișoara and dance. He has two works displayed in the Chronic Desire exhibition, I really miss dancing (2021) and Vera means belief (2023). They represent two moments from a period that is perhaps interesting from a personal perspective and a complex situation within a global framework. Paul will speak about all this at length in what follows:
Gavril Pop: Hi, how are you?
Pavel Brăila: Well, I’m a bit confused, I have a lot to do. Next Sunday I have to be in Thessaloniki and make a pitch at the film festival there. There’s a lot to be organised.
G.P.: How did it go with the preparations for Timișoara?
P.B.: It was great! It was one of the first cities my friends and I visited in Romania in the ’90s. Every time I return to Timisoara I feel it closer to my heart.
G.P.: Maybe you could tell us something about your two works in the Chronic Desire exhibition, or if there’s a connection between them.
P.B.: They represent two special moments of our civilization, the pandemic and the war. I did I really miss dancing during the pandemic. I’m sociable. Suddenly, all activities were stopped. I understood I really missed dancing. My back hurt and the doctors told me I had to exercise more. I realized I hadn’t done sports before, but I danced at least once a week.
G.P.: The context is great, the exhibition in the Ștefania Palace begins with this. There was a bar there.
P.B.: Indeed! I was very happy about this too.
G.P.: Now that you have seen the city as a cultural capital, do you think it’s a little different than you knew it? What do you think of this super event?
P.B.: In 2005 I was in France and Lille was the Cultural Capital. Lille was then a provincial city, but when this event came, it changed. I think the people of Timișoara feel that too, right?
G.P.: Yes, I’m from Timișoara and I think it’s very different. As if it wasn’t my home town. I’m curious to see how it will be from now on.
P.B.: Naturally! Like Sibiu before it was a Cultural Capital. Then it changed. I hope, and chances are very high, that this will happen to Timișoara as well.
G.P.: How did the making of the video (Vera means belief) go? Can you teel us something about how it started?
P.B.: Vera and I started shooting it right after the war. How the war started… Obviously all the projects I was working on and in general all art projects lost their relevance. The Venice Biennale went on as decided before, that is, little changed, although there is a war going on in the centre of Europe – this is killing me. I don’t think anyone has ever imagined such an event. We were sure the Russians would attack, but when we saw the Ukrainians fought back, we thought they would save all of Europe. We simply started to document what was happening.
G.P.: So the process was somehow organic.
P.B.: Yes, I wasn’t necessarily looking for a character. It was the first days when Vera came to the camp. She was a very interesting person and we started following her. That was the first night, when she spoke about national identity. She said she didn’t want to leave though the others did and looked for something else. They found a new country. But Vera did not want to leave. She told me she wrote poems, gave me the link to read them- their theme changed after February 24, they spoke more of grief.
G.P.: Was it difficult for you to maintain a connection with her?
P.B.: No, she is a very open person. The kids told her to do whatever she wanted and I think our attention melted his heart. She was just careful make her look like something that she wasn’t. It was very interesting, I sent her my past movies and she watched them. She follows me everywhere, she has accounts on all social networks. She has three phones and uses a different one whenever she texts me.
G.P.: So how involved was she in the whole story? Maybe she somehow interacted with the film…
P.B.: She hasn’t seen it yet and I’m going to show her the final version. She’s a sensitive woman. The part where she talks to her daughter on the phone… I’m not going to show her that. That’s when I found out she has some difficulties communicating with her children… Well, many Ukrainians… Before the war, some were for and others against, especially in the occupied areas, Donbas, Odessa, but when the war started, everything changed. And I believe that February 24 is the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. There have always been monuments of Lenin in Odessa and Donbas. The one in Kiev was there until 2014.
G.P.: So it’s quite an important paradigm shift.
P.B.: Yes, until now it was Moscow and several small neighbouring states. Now things are changing, but it’s hard to say. I just hope this war will end as soon as possible.
G.P: About Vera’s phone conversation with her daughter. It’s a subtle insertion, but it still stands out. Did you talk about it before or after?
P.B: No. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She says something about this when there are no cameras around. Then she is more relaxed.
G.P.: Can you tell me more about how the work came to be in the form it is now, or how you relate to the work you are displaying here?
P.B.: For me, Vera is a victim of the war, of the propaganda. She is an example for me. At 72, she gathered her things and left her home to spend a year in a tent… We don’t know how it is when you hear the bombs, you can’t fight it, you just wait to die. Vera doesn’t want to leave. Her experience, which is a Soviet one, and how she manages and communicates, how she always finds something to do… I didn’t have time to show everything, how this woman manages to survive in the war, to stay sane, she’s a heroine. For me, she’s a metaphor for Ukraine.
G.P.: During the conversations you had with her in the refugee camp did you realise anything that you weren’t necessarily aware of before? Did they change your idea about national identity?
P.B.: This war has no reason it’s the whim of a sick man who put makes two brothers, two peoples very close for centuries, fight against one another. The way he may formulate his ideas can cause a catastrophe and that is a very painful thing. Despite the easy access to information, men will be men and unfortunately easy to manipulate. But what makes me the saddest is what is happening in Russia. The Ukrainians are fighting for the others, while the others listen to the national media channels. There’s no opposition. Many of them are teachers.
G.P.: Yes, and the whole situation is scary.
P.B.: Very scary! I’m sure many Romanians believe Russia is right and the Ukrainians are not.
G.P.: So how do you see the future?
P.B.: Who knows, maybe a Marshall Plan that will make Ukraine a more developed and less corrupt country. As you can see, in that war zone of Donbas people on both sides are fighting every day and some say that maybe it will become a conflict like that between Palestine and Israel, which will last a long time. It’s certain that there will be no peace in Russia, neither with or without Putin. We’ll see.