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Eugen Jebeleanu foto Bogdan Iordache/Cultura la dubă

Eugen Jebeleanu and the triumph of humanity through art

Versiunea în ROMÂNĂ

photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

“As an artist and as a human, I am one and the same. No matter how hard some people try to break the two apart, I believe that the artist and the human are the same being.”

Director Eugen Jebeleanu has been living in Paris for 11 years. There, along with his partner Yann Verburgh, he founded a theatre company – Compagnie des Ogres. Their shows are performed in cities all over France and get selected for some of the most reputable theatre festivals in Europe.

Today, Jebeleanu’s latest production, Rémission, produced at the Comédie de Caen theatre in Normandy, is playing at the Avignon Theatre Festival. In August, Eugen Jebeleanu will also be present at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival with the show Itineraries. One day the world will change, for which he received the UNITER Award for Best Director last year.

And in two weeks’ time he will participate in the official competition of the Transylvania International Film Festival with his debut film Poppy Field, for which he has already earned 6 international awards.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

Yet beyond his impressive work, Eugen Jebeleanu stands out through a kind of humanity that is increasingly rare in today’s world, and all the more so in the competitive world of film and theatre. He vehemently condemns offenses or abuses of any kind in the relationship between a director and an actor, and brings a new work philosophy, inspired by the fact that he originally established himself as an actor.

“I don’t think that actors should serve a director. Any performance is a collaborative creation.

The fact that I’m a film director doesn’t mean I’m some kind of demigod who people should bow before.

Unfortunately, that’s precisely the way many actors in Romania interact with many directors. We’ve heard these stories in the history of Romanian theatre about how you will lose your role if you don’t accept the director’s delirium and fantasies. So many actors live with this fear.

Alright, if you don’t think an actor is good enough for a role, then bring someone else, don’t humiliate them. I’ve heard of actors who have ended up in dire situations because of such attitudes from directors.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

Unfortunately, this hierarchical attitude in which the directors take advantage of their superior position in relation with the actors comes up very often, and it drives me mad, because I was trained as an actor and I’m advocating for an end to these abuses.

There was a case in Cluj a few years ago with an actress who got slapped by the director. The case was talked about for a little and then got buried. We should talk about this more.”

We met Eugean Jebeleanu in front of the apartment building which he lives, in the small commune in France– Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, located right on the border with Paris and directly connected to the Parisian metro. He welcomed us with a smile on his face and generously agreed to give us a glimpse into his universe.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

He moved to this area 4 years ago, after 7 years living with boyfriend Yann in an apartment on a boat on the Seine.

“It’s an affordable but very chic neighborhood. There’s an entire artistic community here – a lot of musicians, actors, directors live in the area. There are all kinds of workshops and residencies, and there are a lot of theatres nearby, there’s also the National Dance Centre.

Living here is much better than living in Paris, where you have to pay the same price for 20 square metres. Here you have more comfort in terms of space and it’s more quiet.”

He first visited Paris with his family during a holiday that lasted a few days, but he doesn’t have many memories from that time. Afterwards, he returned as an actor in the show “The Illness of the M Family”, directed by Radu Afrim at the National Theatre in Timisoara and invited to the Odeon in Paris.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

That is when he first came into contact with the artistic world in France and felt fascinated. Later on, he finished university in Bucharest and met Yann, a French actor who would become his partner for the next 11 years. That is why he decided to enroll in a one-year training at the Paris Conservatory and move to the French capital.

“I initially came here because I wanted to live with Yann. I didn’t have anything stable in Romanian and couldn’t provide him with much there. Here, on the other hand, Paris goes from one festival to another.”

“And I stayed here because there was a certain openness towards what Yann and I share in our private lives, because I felt protected, but also because artistically speaking, there was a lot I could see and do.  

You have theatre shows, dance shows, exhibitions, concerts, this is what keeps pulling me towards this city and for now, I don’t want to live anywhere else.”

Eugen Jebeleanu and Alexandra Tănăsescu in Paris/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

Shortly after, he received a Carte Blanche invitation from the Romanian Cultural Institute in Paris and this is how he took up theatre directing. In 2010 he founded Company 28 in Romania and had his first shows in Paris and Bucharest, at the independent venues Green Hours and Unteatru.

His professional life changed, so he left acting for directing. In 2013, he signed up for a Master’s degree in Directing in Paris, which he finished in 2015, and his connections with the artistic world in France began growing by the day.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

“I feel more generous and more useful as a director. I love working with actors. That’s one of the reasons I got into directing.”

“There were a lot of fellow young actors who didn’t have work and I wanted to create a company where we could support each other. There was also the fact that a lot of directors don’t know how to work with actors. I focused on the relationship with the actor, and coming from that side, I see things differently.”

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

When he completed his Master’s degree directing directed the show Ogres/Căpcăuni, he really made his mark as a director in France, performing in over 20 cities across the country.

Afterwards, he decided to found Compagnie des Ogres, which brought together both French and Romanian actors. The company operates as an association and proposes or is invited to stage shows in French theatres.

Jebeleanu is not hired as an artist, but he benefits from the French system, which supports independent artists with an allowance when they are out of work. The amount of money they receive is proportional with the one earned during the time when they had projects.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

In 2018 he also received the first offer to direct a film based on a real story from Romania – the moment when a homophobic group entered the cinema hall of the Romanian Peasant Museum and interrupted the screening of a film that won at Cannes – 120 beats per minute, on the grounds that a film about homosexuals would have no place in the Romanian Peasant Museum.

“For me, the fact that a film is being made based on what happened at the Museum is a reaction and a message that stopping these LGBT-themed screenings cannot be tolerated.

If they put a stop to a film screening, my response is to make another film.

The subject preoccupies me in everything I do and the proposal to make a film was an organic continuation of my work. The main character in the film, the gay policeman, is both victim and executioner, and this is what intrigued me, to see how we can break free from our own internal homophobias, which we may have because of our upbringing, our cultural heritage.

It all boils down to the struggle that rages within him, how much of it he owns up to, how much of it is self-censorship.”

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

He caught the film bug and fell in love with the close-up, which he didn’t have in theatre.

„I want to continue with both theatre and film. I think there are stories that are better told through theatre and stories that are better told through film. For example, the story of Poppy Field might have been less conflictual in theatre. The whole story unfolds in 24 hours, and the event is doubled by the interior conflict, which can be rendered through close-ups.”

He continues to stage shows in Romania too, and after earning the UNITER award, he aroused the curiosity of audiences and colleagues alike. At a casting he organised a short while ago for his production “The Widow Boy” a total of 190 actors showed up.

“I wanted to do a casting to give independent actors a chance, to get to know them myself, to come into contact with the new generation. And it really worked for me.”

For Eugen Jebeleanu, the UNITER award was more than a mere recognition of his artistic value in the independent sector. It was an opportunity for him to own up to his sexual orientation, live on public television, as a form of normality.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

“It’s a way of saying that we are here and that people cannot carry on pretending we don’t exist or matter.”

If I hadn’t said anything on stage, I would’ve hated myself for the rest of my life, because that would’ve contradicted everything I do.

It felt so natural for me to speak about who I am because who I am informs what I do as an artist. And it also felt important because it really is time we had this kind of conversations on national television to help create a positive image – as much as possible – of the LGBT community.”

He has received many messages of support from his colleagues, but also homophobic ones from strangers.

“I received hate messages on Facebook, but I ignored them. I want to have polite conversations, not respond to insults. The change is small and the steps are quite small too, but you have to acknowledge that it’s a change for the better. We still have work to do.

On Airbnb Romania, a host told us that we are free to bring 4 women, which shows not only superficiality towards a gay couple, but also a wrong attitude towards women.

In Romania there is a huge problem with misogynism.”

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

In the small commune where he lives, the openness towards the LGBT community starts at the very town hall. The crosswalks in front of the building are painted in rainbow colours, and Eugen is free to step right onto them.

That is his main “home” but from time to time, he also returns to his first “home”, in the city of Timișoara, a future European Capital of Culture.

Eugen Jebeleanu/ photo: Bogdan Iordache/ Cultura la dubă

“Home in Romania is where my mom and brother are. That’s where I go during the holidays. I like going home for the holidays, it’s the dose of traditionalism that I can accept too, hahaha.”

***This story is part of the “France Week” series, a Cultura la Dubă project supported by BNP Paribas.

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