Cristian, a young idealistic prosecutor whose career is on the rise, tries to crack a case against a senior colleague accused of corruption. The dilemma of choosing between his career and the truth weighs heavily on his shoulders. Looking further to solve the case, he enters a danger zone paved with unexpected and painful revelations.
I have been interested in making a film about the real story of prosecutor Cristian Panait since 2005. As far back as 2005, I started collecting print and internet articles about him, and I felt embarrassed that, in 2002, when Panait committed suicide, I was not aware of the details of the case. In the meantime, I directed my first feature film (Love Sick, 2006) and also had a once-in-a- lifetime experience: I was the youngest CEO of the Romanian public television, TVR, ever, from 2005 to 2007.
It was therefore not paradoxical that when I resigned, following a huge media scandal and accusations of political pressure, I felt I was walking in Panait’s shoes: I was a prisoner in my own “castle” and my moral values greatly differed from those of the system that I was working in. I, too, had tried to „change the water in the fish tank”, but I only succeeded to a very small extent. I stopped when it became obvious that I was fighting in vain, that the stakes for which I had accepted the job had been rendered irrelevant. I was dragged into the middle of a media circus; my family was dragged through the mud; I had to write desperate messages to my friends, asking them not to believe the aberrations the newspapers published.
Only later did I find out that prosecutor Panait had gone through the same torture, for the mere reason that he chose not to cave in to the pressure of his superiors. He did not indict prosecutor Lele (Leca, in our film), because he did not have enough evidence against him, and he felt he was a player in a grotesque masquerade set up by the very people who were supposed to be the models of the judiciary system. Panait gave up, and ultimately became a post- mortem hero of the fight against a corrupt system, which remains largely
unreformed to this day. Many voices in the civil society have claimed that Panait was, in fact, “suicided”. His case has become symptomatic for many countries that are (still) trying to fight against the idea that justice can be bought, and that everything is for sale.
Some time after my TVR experience, I once again took up the notes and files I had set aside, and found new articles on the internet, some of which highlighted striking coincidences: Panait was born the same year as me; like me, he was a big fan of football team Dinamo F.C.; and he was a workaholic, a man with clearly defined life principles, who made no compromises and believed in the idea of absolute justice.
The film about Panait/ Panduru is, to a certain extent, the film about the failure of my generation – the failure to change Romania’s social and political environment. It’s about the idealistic people who were educated under communism and then experienced the 1989 Revolution, all full of high ideals. A generation that believed the political changes brought on by the 1989 revolution would trigger a final break away from the “old system”, which is mob-ridden and corrupt. But we were wrong. Now, just as in 2002, the year Panait died, the reality of Romanian society is harsh: former Securitate officers and active members of the actual SRI (the “new” Secret Service) have monopolized important businesses, as well as important political positions. In 2002, the fight between the secret services of the army, police, judiciary and the government (the latter of which inherited the old Securitate apparatus) reached its climax. Business was conducted behind closed doors under the serene patronage of the state’s ruling class, composed of representatives of the former communist power, now “rebranded” as social-democrats. Smuggling oil by-products was a huge source of income for the officers of the secret services, with the benevolent support of the politicians. What odds to succeed would that grant to people with strong moral backbones, like prosecutors Panduru or Leca?
In such a context, Leca’s initiative to arrest a high government official for smuggling was absolutely unique and had to be punished in an exemplary manner. The system delegated young prosecutor Panduru to do just that. Soon after, Panduru found himself faced with a radical moral choice.
Seen from another perspective, the film is about an organized criminal system, whose members were magistrates, who, instead of pulling out guns, pulled out handcuffs against each other, in order to make sure the mafias and politicians could go on with their business undeterred. And, lost in this bestiary, ‘good guy’ Cristian Panduru – the young prosecutor who found no other solution to leave the system. And no other price for it.
A film so strongly grounded in reality can be made in a thousand ways. I am very much preoccupied with disassembling the mechanisms by which a man, who is strong both physically as well as figuratively, can come to take his own life within no more than 20 days. What internal mechanism is activated, when you find that the entire system within which you are working is corrupt and rotten to its very core? This is a film about the quick disintegration of a man who has chosen to fight the system from within.
I have never made films about defeats and people who lose their battles; they usually bring no closure or provide moralizing endings. However, I believe Cristian’s story must be told at any cost, to show there is a visible, fundamental solidarity of the masses, who still hope we deserve a country where the judiciary truly deals justice, outside political interests or high-level corruption.