“I thought about exploiting the pandemic to tell this story of intimacy,” Romanian-born, Swedish-based director Ştefan Constantinescu told Variety, after the screening of “Man and Dog.” The movie was showcased in the main competition of this week’s Torino Film Festival.

Constantinescu’s debut follows Doru (Bodgan Dumitrache) who suddenly leaves his work in Göteborg, and returns to Romania with a growing load of jealousy on his back, after receiving a mysterious text message claiming that his wife (Ofelia Opii) is being unfaithful. His anxiety will escalate to gigantic proportions, trapping him into a meticulous investigation.

“I exploited the pandemic to build up tension and add further pressure on Doru,” he pointed out. However, he also disclosed that the first draft of the script was penned by his co-writer Andrei Epure back in 2015, well ahead of the healthcare crisis.

“We kept on speaking about it for a while. After two, three years, Jörgen [Andersson] – a dear friend of mine – joined us and co-produced the film. From that moment on, we kept on developing it.”

When asked why he decided to tell this story, he answered: “I thought at my age, I’ve still the opportunity to make three or four films. As my first feature, I wanted to work on matters that are of my interest, those of a couple and their relationship dynamics within the family.”

Constantinescu decided to focus on this theme to explore the role of masculinity in today’s society and the conflicts arising between couples: “There is a point of view made of conflicts within couples and I find that a bit artificial. We end up [engaging] in these conflicts, while the two parts – male and female – should be a perfect match and interact with each other in a balanced manner. So I decided to delve into this [dynamics].”

The movie, a Romanian-Bulgarian-Swedish-German co-production, entered production in August 2020 and was shot in 27 days, with post-production lasting roughly two years.

Casting the right duo of leads and creating chemistry among them has been of crucial importance. “I’ve chosen Ofelia [Popii] since she is a very famous theater actress in Romania, and just in theater. Everyone kept on saying stupid things, as if she could only do theater, but nothing else. […] With Bogdan [Dumitrache], I wanted to create a highly emotional atmosphere because keeping it too light-hearted would have been counterproductive. Other people [on set] found it more discomforting, but that’s what I wanted [to achieve].”

Both visual and cinematic references seems to have inspired the Romanian director in crafting his debut. Paintings, in particular, served as visual references to craft dream-like sequences and “to create a contrast with the reality depicted in the film.” Among his sources of inspiration, Constantinescu mentioned Surrealism, Romanticism and Fauvism.

The helmer also admitted his love for Swedish cinema, and in particular for Roy Andersson’s oeuvre. “[Moreover,] everyone knows I’m friends with Cristi Puiu since ’87-’88. We spoke a lot about the film, and about art and cinema more broadly. What I wanted to do – and this one of my other obsessions – is not to be Cristi Puiu. I tried to make a film that had nothing to do with his work.”

Constantinescu is already working on his next effort. “I’m staying in Romania since I think that, with the money I have at my disposal, I could do much more. I don’t know whether I’ll manage to complete it, [but] I’m now developing a sci-fi film,” he revealed.