Tatal Fantoma

Considered "the only living American conceivably possessed by genius" (Norman Mailer), Barry is an interesting combination of Jewish blood - thanks to his Romania-born father - and Irish-Catholic. A famous screenwriter, long-time collaborator of David Lynch (Wild at Heart, Lost Highway) and the son of a Chicago gangster, interested in the origin of his family, Barry gets acquainted with Romania from via another writer, this time from Sibiu, in Transylvania– his very good friend Andrei Codrescu.
Barry Gifford and Lucian Georgescu met during the 2003 edition of the Transylvania Film Festival where they held a panel discussion on screenwriting. At the end of the festival they leave together on an improvised trip, crossing the mountains by car and stopping from in various cities from Transylvania and Bucovina where they look for the needle in the haystack – the only clue they have being the writer's grandparents' family name, Stein, and the knowledge that they had emigrated from a province of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bucovina. Close to the Ukrainian border, they stop in Siret and in the local synagogue they find the aforementioned family name written on a stone. "Let's leave. I don't want to know whether this is my grandfather or not. Mistery is better than truth" says in his usual style, the screenwriter of Lost Highway.
Robert Traum is a complete premiere for Marcel Iureș - it is his first comedic role as a protagonist (Captain Cheval from Pirates of the Carribean doesn't count!). Actually, Marcel, who was the back bone of this film for many years – without his faith, The Phantom Father would have never been brought to life – wanted very much to play in a comedy.
An old fashioned - both literally and figuratively speaking – projectionist from the North-Eastern part of the old country, the last living Jew in Siret and bearer of the keys to the Synagogue. A projectionist from father to son, first working in the once elegant cinema, later transformed into the Communist Cultural House, Sami is very real – Barry and Lucian met him while wondering through Bucovina – sad enough he passed away a few months before principal photography ended.
One of the three obscure (for some people!) names mentioned in the end credits. It is the Georgescus' family name before WWII. George Balkanski is another phantom-father who makes a special appearance in the film in the first scenes after the pre-credits sequence as a plaster stone masque made by famous Romanian sculptor Ion Vlad after the theatre director Ghebal Georgescu, father of today's film director..
The phantom father of The Phantom Father. An 80's Theatre and Film Academy graduate, Ovidiu Bose Paștina is a moral and artistic reference point for all those who met him. The short films and the documentaries made by Bose led many of his mates to sigh with envy. Bose left us with the same discretion he had employed during the parties of our youth, before the film – his long awaited feature film debut – could get all the financing in place. Although the film is probably miles away from where Bose would have taken it, the film is dedicated to him while little Robert is played by Iosif, Bose's youngest son.
It was writer Barry Gifford's family name before they immigrated to the United States. Grandpa Stein is an emblematic character of Gifford' memory book The Phantom Father. While the old Stein is a pleasant and joyous character who reminds us that the Old World was "the place where it really was very cold", Stein Jr., Barry Gifford's father, becomes an active member of the famous Chicago Siegel-Lanski gang led by the famous "Bugsy" Siegel.
During his Transylvanian journey Barry was accompanied by his childhood friend, Vincenzo Duda, also from Bucovina – consequently, he was nicknamed "prince Duda". Every morning, in the car, Vinnie would perform various incantations and mantras – if we are to trust Barry, Vinnie – today a retired California plumber – used to be a Tibetan monk and Dalai Lama's bodyguard. The first part of this story was plausible, but why would have Dalai Lama needed a bodyguard such as Vinnie? "Because he liked married women way too much" answered Barry. "Mystery is better than truth", and rightly so.
On the way back from Bucovina, while riding at night towards the Cluj airport, Barry, Vinnie and Lucian's car gets lost in the Szekler no man's land. All three men share the same vision: a thin pale man with white-silvery face and hands appears and, seconds later, disappears into the dark – even though the closest human settling is miles away. They manage to reach a newly opened hotel where they are the only customers. At midnight, they have dinner assisted by stone-like waiters. From afar, they can hear the wolves howling and the writer is transfigured: Shining, the Transylvanian version.
The Phantom Father's co-producer is a blue blood gentleman whose family origins lead us all the way to the Baltics, in Livonia, where the von Vietinghoff family castle is still erect and gets visited by the von Vietinghoffs during their family reunions organized periodically by the over 100 descendants spread all over the world. The baron Conrad von Vietinghoff's nephew, Joachim, is one of the most prolific contemporary producers – over 60 films – and is identified with the New German Cinema and is famous especially for his collaboration with Bella Tarr, Satantango – the record-breaking film of 8 and a half hours – being produced by Joachim. In 2007, the year in which 4.3.2 won the Palme d'Or, Joachim was also selected in the Cannes official competition, this time with Tarr's second to latest film, "The Man from London"… hic transit
This is the first film role for Mariana Mihuț after almost three decades, her last meaty part being in Lucian Pintilie's "Carnival Scenes", where she appeared together with her husband, Victor Rebengiuc. (We deliberately left aside her special appearance in "The Oak" by the same director, a film celebrating in 2012 its 20th anniversary). Reserved at first, Mrs. Mihuț said that she will accept the part if she's allowed to read the text – but the part had been written especially for her; the scene in which she appears, even though it is short, clearly proves how much she enjoyed being "aunt Florica".
He is 2 meter tall – commanding, handsome and noble man, a true Cantacuzino prince – Johannes Malfatti, the composer of the original score is a musician from Berlin, son of the count-painter Malfatti and grandson of Ioana Cantacuzino, the daughter of Ion Cantacuzino and Yvonne Alexandrescu-Ghika. Heir of the family domain in Guranda, Botoșani County, Johannes loves Romania so much that in addition to the wonderful music-character he also composed the manea which we can hear during the bar scene when Robert and Tanya are approached by the two Ukrainian mobsters. The recording sessions for The Phantom Father (except the manea, created with the synthesizer!) were performed by the Polish Wroclaw Radio Orchestra, lead by the Berlin born conductor Joris Bartsch Buhle, an Academy Awards nominee.
While travelling in the footsteps of their improvised road movie, Barry, Lucian and Vinnie stop in the Transylvanian plateau and the Americans can't help but admire the roofs of the gypsy pagodas. "Do you realize how rich we could get if we were to import this stuff into California?" – says Barry. Vinnie approves and has an idea: we should protect by patent the "Burger & Borsch" brand (a brand which the viewers will see later on, displayed on the fast food van of the former mobster Vitalie). A little gypsy girl appears in front of us – she starts dancing, barefoot. That same night, Barry knocks on Lucian's door. The dogs are barking and he cannot sleep, but he's just finished writing a poem called "Eurydice in Transylvania". "Balkanski – Barry refuses to call Ghebal's son by any other name – make a copy and if you ever are in need, you'll be able to sell it to any American museum – but don't settle for anything less than 10.000 dollars, and that solely if I am still alive". Balkanski starts reading under the Bucovina moonlight: "She can be a model on a podium in Milan… I hate I will never see her again".
One of the most difficult tasks for the production team was to find an old cinema which still had – both inside and outside – its original look. They found it in Brăila, once one of the richest South-Eastern cities in Europe, the place where the price of the grain used to be set up, a Danube harbor where, in the 19th century, over 700 ships would arrive every year, a gorgeous city now turned to ruin. The desperate search for the right cinema lead to the rewrite of Sami's story – the projectionist is thrown out of his old cinema by a callous mayor who wants to tear it down to make room for a mall of plastic and steel.
Similarly hard to find was Barry Gifford's "Almost Oriental" Turkish bath – but the writer had no idea how difficult it would be to find such a place here, close to the Eastern World. But we did find the place… in Transylvania, at Ocna Sibiului, where luck was on our side and both the baths built by the Austrian architects at the beginning of the 20th century, and the central pavilion, an architectural masterpiece of the Florentines masters, were still up and almost... untouched. Although the heart aches upon seeing the plastic windows of the hotels nearby, the few islands of historical architecture really please the eye. As a side note, this is also the location in which Mircea Daneliuc shot a scene from 1985 Glissando and the legend says that the director was picked up here by the Securitate who required further explanations concerning his subversive film.
No animal was harmed during the shooting, but the goose didn't miss either the opportunity to bite Mihaela Sîrbu really hard by the hand, exactly when the actress was riding the motorcycle for the final scene, or the unique chance of biting Marcel Iureș by the forehead, immediately after the actor had been kissed good-bye by Mariana Mihuț (aunt Florica).