Liviu Ciulei, 1923 - 2011

Winner of the Best Director award in Cannes, Ciulei also spent five years running the Guthrie Theater.
David Hudson

"Romanian film and theater director Liviu Ciulei, whose career spanned 50 years and included winning a top award at the Cannes Film Festival, has died at 88," reports the AP. "Ciulei, as an actor, director and set designer, was the most influential figure of Romanian theater and film in a generation." Actor Ion Caramitru is said to have exclaimed today, "An era has died! A genius had died!"

Ciulei's 1964 film Forest of the Hanged (Padurea Spânzuratilor, clip) won Best Director in Cannes and was slated for restoration by the World Cinema Foundation. Adapted from the novel by Liviu Rebreanu, it "tells the story of a young man, Apostol Bologa, from Transylvania, part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, during the First World War," notes CinEast, Festival du Film d'Europe Centrale. "The kingdom of Romania (Moldavia and Wallachia) was on the opposite side, so Apostol Bologa finds himself in the difficult situation of fighting other Romanians. He is torn between his duty as a soldier and that as son of a nation, he tries to desert, but he is captured and has a tragic ending."

Ciulei: "The most beautiful scene I have ever directed in my career is the last scene of Padurea Spânzuratilor. We see a young peasant woman preparing the last meal for the man she loves who is sentenced to death by hanging — a man, a woman, bread, salt and wine, love, life and death."

Don Shewey profiled Ciulei (and noted that his name is pronounced "Leave-you Chew-lay") for the New York Times in 1986: "In 1972 at the Bulandra Theater in Bucharest, he presented a production of The Inspector General, Nikolai Gogol's satire of bureaucratic government, that was taken rather too personally by Rumania's bureaucratic government. The production was closed by censors, and Ciulei left the position he'd held for nine years as the company's artistic director. When he was hired in 1980 to run the Guthrie Theater, one of the oldest and largest regional theaters in America, he inaugurated his regime with a startling production of The Tempest where Prospero's kingdom was presented as an oasis surrounded by a moat of blood, in which floated such cultural artifacts as a Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and a clock without hands. Last summer, having tendered his resignation after only five years as the Guthrie's artistic director, Ciulei mounted his bitter, frightening Midsummer Night's Dream in which Bottom's ragtag troupe of players is humiliated by the indifferent response of its royal audience – a reflection, perhaps, of Ciulei's own disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm for adventurous theater in middle America. 'I think there is, in this country, a certain prudence or refusal to be troubled, much encouraged by TV,' he commented. 'Many people still want the theater to be like a cool lemonade when it's hot.'"

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