Cannes Best Director-winning film-maker talks to Screen about his latest feature Graduation.

Cristian Mungiu

Cristian Mungiu shared the best director prize for Graduation with French film-maker Olivier Assayas at the Palme d’Or ceremony which wrapped up this year’s Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. It was Mungiu’s third time playing in Competition, and he’s walked away with a prize each time - he won the Palme d’Or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and best screenplay in 2012 for Beyond The Hills.

Mungiu admits he felt the pressure this time in striving to deliver a film which could compete in Cannes. Reaction was largely positive to his fifth feature, which is about a father willing to do whatever it takes for his daughter to leave Romania for a better life abroad.

The Romanian writer-director spoke to Screen in Cannes.

Why did a story about a father seeking to send his daughter abroad interest you?

When you look around Romania and see how people are disappointed in society, you start asking yourself, “How can things improve?” For many parents, the solution is education. Of course we speak about very well-educated children, the elite. So it wasn’t difficult to identify the themes of corruption and education - they are present within Romanian society. I wanted to write about the stage in life when you need to make the most important decisions about your children.

What is the role of the younger generation in Romania? 

We don’t have a strong education system in Romania. But it has good results on a small scale - this is an elite group of students, and the teachers are proud of this elite. But they often leave to continue their studies abroad and only a tiny number of them come back. This is a problem that adds to local corruption. If you lose so many well-educated young adults, it’s very difficult to make changes in the country.

Is corruption still a prevalent issue in Romania?

We need a generation that will raise children differently to how they were raised. If not, we are going to continue to promote this way of thinking it’s easy to choose a solution that is not moral or ethical. If you are in a country where freedom came just 25 years ago, there are a lot of things that are not yet settled. People don’t have the patience, they want solutions on the spot. So unless people understand that you need more ethical solutions to set examples for your children, it’s going to be difficult to change society.

Graduation bears some similarity to Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon and Hidden, which also deal with underlying socio-political issues. Was this intentional?

Not consciously. I shape my films around situations in life - I don’t take other films as a motive. Because film is already an interpretation of life, it’s good to take from the original source if you want to make original films. This is why I don’t cut - because life is a continuum. We can’t edit out the things we don’t like, or the moments we consider not to be important. We have to live them all. So I stage every moment in perfect continuity, including dead moments. This is also why I don’t use music in my films: we don’t start hearing music because we feel emotional. I am interested in emotion that is extracted from everyday events.

How would you describe your directing style?  

As a director, I try to be as absent as possible in the film. For example, I don’t move the camera unless the camera follows a character that moves in the shot. So when I stage a situation, I am always using complicated choreography in order to stay coherent with these choices.

How did you end up with your leads in Graduation: Adrian Titieni (The Death Of Mr Lazarescu) as the father and Maria-Victoria Dragus (The White Ribbon) as his daughter?

Adrian had tested for Beyond The Hills but his accent wasn’t naturally the Romanian accent I was looking for. So when I was writing this, I thought he would be perfect as the role of the father. With Maria, I wondered how someone could be Romanian and in one of [Michael] Haneke’s films. I found out she was Romanian and German. When she became a Shooting Star at the Berlinale [in 2014], I contacted her, we read a little bit of the dialogue and, from then, she was the only person I had in mind when I was writing the screenplay.