The Romanian Cultural Institute in New York is deeply saddened to announce the passing of one of the masters of modern Romanian theatre and film, LIVIU CIULEI (July 7, 1923 – October 25, 2011). Ciulei died on October 25th in a clinic in Munich , Germany . He was 88. Long time collaborator and star of the film Forest of the Hanged, Victor Rebengiuc said he feels profoundly indebted to Ciulei: “Liviu Ciulei was a great personality of the Romanian theatre and film. He created schools of theatre and film, he created actors and wonderful performances. He was a good man and a great artist of incredible modesty.”
Born on July 7, 1923, in Bucharest , Romania , Liviu Ciulei was a theater and film director, as well as film writer, actor, architect, educator, costume and set designer. During a career spanning over 50 years, he had a seminal influence on Romanian cinema and theater. Known for his daring theatrical interpretations, he has distinctively marked the area of performing arts inside Romania and abroad. He was described by Newsweekas "one of the boldest and most challenging figures on the international scene."
Ciulei studied architecture and theater at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Theatre in Bucharest . He made his theater debut, as an actor, in 1946, playing Puck in the Odeon Theatre production of William Shakespeare'sA Midsummer Night's Dream. Soon afterwards, he joined the theater company of the Bucharest Municipal Theatre, later renamed Bulandra Theatre, where he directed his first stage production in 1957 — Rainmaker by Richard Nash.
Between 1956 and 1957, his theatre directing work was also reinforced by a series of consistent essays on directing and stage designing, in the context of a national media debate around the modernization of theatrical aesthetics. He continued to act for the stage and in films.
In 1961, Ciulei gained general acclaim and recognition as a theatre director for his version of Shakespeare's As You Like It. As a film director, he won the Crystal Globe for Best Director at the 1960 Karlovy Vary Film Festival with his second film, The Danube Waves, but it was with his third feature, Forest of the Hanged, that he and Romanian cinema reached widespread international recognition, receiving the Best Director Award at the 1965Cannes Film Festival. This was to be his last feature film as a director. However he continued to appear in several films, as an actor, until the end of the 1970s.
Ciulei was the artistic director of Bulandra Theatre for more than 10 years. In the 70s he also worked in several European countries, the United States , Canada and Australia . In the U.S. , he first directed Leonce and Lena at The Arena Stage in Washington D.C. , in 1974. During the 70s he returned in the U.S. for several extremely notable productions at The Arena Stage, The Juilliard Theatre Centre, Circle in the Square, The Public Theatre and The Acting Company. As an example of Ciulei’s mastery, in his review of Ciulei’s staging of Hamlet at The Arena Stage in 1978, New York Post critic Clive Barnes notes: “The man is a genius – a word to be sparingly used. He sees “Hamlet” as a pattern of wills – and grasps instantly that this classic Elizabethan revenge tragedy, a popular dramatic form of Shakespeare’s day, derives its greatness from the fact that destroyed hero is never actually revenged."
In late '70s he was marginalized by the communist regime and transferred to work at the Sahia Film studio, as a documentary filmmaker. In 1980 he fled Romania with a motor vessel during the filming of a documentary about the life of Romanian sailors.
After his arrival in the U.S. , Ciulei was the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis , Minnesota , from 1980 to 1985, creating memorable shows such as The Tempest, Requiem for a Nun or Peer Gynt. During this time, the Guthrie won a Tony Award for its activity, in 1982.
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 Romania'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.'"
Beginning with 1986, he taught at Columbia University and New York University . He kept staging work in the U.S. at The Guthrie, at The Arena Stage, at the American Repertory Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre,Lincoln Center , The Lyric Opera in Chicago and also in Europe (where he did mostly operas in London ,Amsterdam , Florence or Cardiff ).
After the Romanian Revolution in 1989, Ciulei returned to Romania and directed a series of stage productions that have been both publicly and critically acclaimed. He was named Honorary Director of the theatre he has always loved the most, Bulandra, as a token of appreciation and respect for his entire career. Besides being the costume and set designer of the majority of his own productions, as an architect Ciulei contributed decisively to the rebuilding of the auditorium of Bulandra Theatre, as well as to important architectural work of other theater buildings. In 1996, UNITER (the Romanian Theatre Union) awarded its annual prize to Ciulei, in recognition of his overall work.
Liviu Ciulei passed away at age 88.
Honoring this outstanding Romanian personality, the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and the Film Society of Lincoln Center will present a Liviu Ciulei Retrospective as part of the 6th Annual Romanian Film Festival in New York , which will take place between November 30 – December 6 at the Lincoln Center . New York audiences will get a chance to see, for the first time in the U.S. , in new prints, all the three films Liviu Ciulei directed – Eruption, The Danube Waves and Forest of the Hanged.
[Image: Liviu Ciulei starring in his 1964 film Forest of the Hanged]
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