Ciprian Chiujdea, the New Wunderkind of European Cinema

By Răzvan Ion

Ciprian Chiujdea’s journey from Cannes newcomer to Queer Palm darling is the stuff of festival folklore. The Romanian contemporary theatre dancer and actor, a face unknown just days prior, found himself the breakout star of “Three Kilometers to the End of the World.” His was a baptism by fire – his first film role, a leading one at that, propelling him into the prestigious Palme d’Or competition. The film’s subsequent Queer Palm win cemented his status as the festival’s wunderkind. In a rare moment of quiet amidst the Cannes frenzy, we sat down with Chiujdea to discuss his remarkable debut. We caught up with him mere days after the world discovered his captivating screen presence.

Ciprian Chiujea on the red carpet at the official screening for Three Kilometres to the End of the World (directed by Emanuel Pârvu) at Cannes.

Congratulations! It must be extraordinary – attending Cannes for the first time, not just as an actor, but as an actor in a competing film for Palm D’Or. And then, the icing on the cake – the Queer Palm, the most prestigious award for queer cinema! Your performance was truly jaw-dropping. How have you been processing this whirlwind experience over the past few days?

The past few days have been both exhilarating and emotionally challenging to handle. The entire Cannes event and all the news have arrived in waves, leaving me gobsmacked. I’m uncertain how to respond to everything that’s happening around me; it’s all so new and exciting, yet somewhat daunting. All I can express is my immense gratitude towards the brilliant director Emanuel Pârvu and the outstanding crew.

In Three Kilometers to the End of the World, you play Adi, a young man whose life is upended after a brutal attack forces him to confront a hidden truth. The film’s setting, the Danube Delta, is as captivating as it is unsettling, mirroring the simmering tensions beneath the idyllic surface of the community. The film has been lauded for its unflinching portrayal of deep-seated prejudices and the constant threat of violence. What drew you to this complex role and how did you approach portraying Adi’s struggle?

Actually, I wasn’t originally cast as Adi. I went to audition for the role of the tourist in the film. Which suited me fine. I was in my final year at university at the time. Then, on what seemed like an ordinary day, someone from the production team rang to invite me back for a second audition, this time for Adi.

This role is more than a part for me; Adi represents some type of martyr, if you will. Because, to be honest with you, I feel like Adi represents all the queer folk who are physically abused, confined in their own minds, and suffer in the isolated or small communities they come from. Not because they are different – they are not; they are normal if normal it exists – it’s just that they were born in the wrong unfriendly place.

The truth is that I didn’t really ‘do’ anything for this part. To me, ‘to do’ means to work and put effort into something. Yes, it took months to prepare for the role – an entire summer of rehearsals – thinking and acting in my own life as if I were Adi; I had to lose weight and lost 9 kg to look more like him. I truly became Adi over those months and even a few months after filming but didn’t consider it an effort or ‘work’.

Ciprian Chiujea in – theatre dance show S.F. (Superfragil – Ultrafragile), 2023. Photo: Andrei Gîndac.

At the Cannes press conference, you spoke about how inhabiting Adi’s role rekindled memories of your own experiences growing up gay. To what extent did you draw from your own life for this performance? Interestingly, you share your character’s hometown of Tulcea. There’s a certain magnetism to your performance, akin to Monica Bellucci’s in Malena. A powerful, understated presence that commands attention.

Thank you for this comparison. I would’ve never dared to say that myself, but it fills me with joy hearing that. Thank you.

While preparing for a part, I always attempt to bring the character closer to me and make the character as ‘me’ as possible, to find resemblances between myself and the character, and to look for pillars of similarity on which I can rely in understanding and becoming that person.

For Adi, it was different because, as Adi, I had already felt all of the societal pressures, and I had to hide aspects of myself to please others. I’ve dealt with hatred and been marginalised numerous times. I went through some sort of dissection of my own being. I had to look back at my life and try to relive those moments and bring back what I felt Adi could use.

An interview with director Emanuel Pârvu and you and Bogdan Dumitrache – acting as the father – was conducted during the Cannes Film Festival. You discussed the strong Romanian drama and the societal issues it highlighted. Would you elaborate a little for us?

Romania is heading in the right direction, and certain organisations are fighting for equal rights, gender recognition, and anti-corruption measures. Despite this, Romania is a very conservative country with a great deal of corruption, unfairness, and ignorance. I believe and hope that we will gradually heal, but we must not forget the damage that has already been inflicted.

However, some people, yourself included, have noted a deeper layer to the film. You’ve described it as a commentary on a societal tendency to avoid confrontation, a “Romanian cover-up” as you phrased it. This raises a fascinating question: Can you elaborate on how the film portrays the consequences of this silence, where issues are swept under the rug rather than addressed?

We are all aware that being queer, being different in certain parts of the world is considered wrong. I believe that this is not news to anyone and that in many cases, different people have been silenced, marginalised and pushed back into societal norms. The inclination to avoid conflict is demonstrated throughout the film by everyone doing their best to do the right thing, using whatever means they have available. The problem presented in the film is that people do not know how to have a conversation; they do not express their thoughts or opinions, and they do not attempt to make amends. The problem is that bottling things up can come back to bite you in the ass because if you don’t make amends, you will explode while bottling things up and ignoring others.

This experience will bring many things your way, I’m sure. What have you gained from all this? Why do you think you’ve received such good reviews? And what is coming next?

I believe it is too early to predict the future; I can only express my wishes. I sincerely wish to continue acting in films and series that tell great stories and change things. I truly love this job and everything that comes with it. I hope that people can see that and consider that I am suitable and will want to work with me.

Răzvan Ion is the founder of GAY45 and co-host of the podcast “GenClash: Queer Perspectives on Current Affairs“. A professor of curatorial studies and critical thinking in Vienna, he is passionate about comic books, technology, the stock market, art, alternative indie music, true crime, movies, literature, drag queen shows, and artificial intelligence.

You can keep up with the movie screenings on Instagram @treikilometri

Cover image: Ciprian Chiujea in Cosmic Latte – theatre dance show, 2023. Photo: Dinu Lazăr.

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