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TIFF Interview: Cristian Mungiu on “Graduation”


Corruption has no nationality. It may happen and it does in both poorly or well-developed countries. It can be in yours or even in mine. But how to bring that subject up or even to discuss it with hope to eliminate the issue is something that can be handled at a top level. This is why seeing Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation is so important. It touches upon the corruption that occurs in schools, hospitals, police department and everywhere else. You name it.

During the Toronto International Film Festival, I got a significant amount of time with the writer and director Cristian Mungiu to discuss his new film, that I am sure, will amaze you by its reality. For that, you don’t need to be from the Eastern part of Europe, Asia, or Central America – it’s enough to be a citizen of the Earth to acknowledge that everything that has been told in Cristian Mungiu’s film is nothing more or less – but pure truth that we can’t deny.

MOVIEMOVESME: What was your inspiration behind making this movie?

Cristian Mungiu: I don’t have a lot of answers about the education of my children and especially about the choice you need to make early in their life. If you live in a country where things are not settled yet, you have tto decide very early for what are you preparing your children. Are you preparing your children to be survivors in their society, that’s a different education? Are you preparing them to live, that’s a different education. I’m so much concerned about this answer, primarily about my own children because I know that the way I set an example for them now and what I tell them will decide their future. So the film comes from a lot of different places.

MOVIEMOVESME: What was the message behind portraying corruption everywhere including police department, hospital?

Cristian Mungiu: It’s always a way of saying that we are all the result of decisions which were taken before us. This is why we also always have an excuse. You don’t really compromise, it’s a survival mechanism. You’ll say that you made this compromise because the society was not well set and therefore you needed to find a solution for yourself. What I want to speak about the social layer in this film is that society wants change before people decide to change themselves. What I see happening very often in these places is that people will always find an individual solution like sending the children away. But for the society this is not a solution. This society won’t change of everybody just leaves. So the film speaks about the way in which we need to make this collective effort. Before asking younger people to change something, you need to change something yourself. Just look at yourself in the mirror and acknowledge the truth.

MOVIEMOVESME: There was also a disappointment came from Romeo when he does not get what he expected from his country?

Cristian Mungiu: You have to understand that people from my part of the world and my age can be disappointed today because we’re not where we hoped we would be 25 years ago despite the progress. Therefore, now it’s much more complicated because it’s not about you. When it’s about your children things are different. You really want your children not to repeat your mistakes. Despite the progress that we made there’s still a lot of injustice in the society and it depresses you. It is not based on meritocracy, it’s based on this network of relationships, knowing your way, how things go. Whenever you feel that you could’ve done better, there’s a feeling of guilt and from this perspective I think this is also a film not only about corruption or compromise, it’s about truth, necessity of acknowledging the truth about yourself, about feeling guilty, having this feeling of disappointment about how your life looks now.

MOVIEMOVESME: Elisa merely escaped sexual assault but her father said, “It’s okay, just forget it.” I’d like you to talk about the characters you created as they’re very real to be honest.

Cristian Mungiu: I tried to create very realistic characters. I don’t have good characters, bad characters. All the characters are like us. Life is a result of lots of impulses and you can feel very close to your children and can love them as well as do them a lot of harm. You project from them all that you couldn’t fulfil from your life. You can relate to him from his rational perspective as a father. You can’t change what happened, it’s already behind us. Mothers tend to be more emphatic hence calls what happened as rape. Yet again in the film thirty minutes later they are having this conversation again and now the mother is the rational one while the father calls it rape. It shows you how I try to preserve characters in the film as close as real life.

MOVIEMOVESME: I’d like you to talk about the scene where the man during his organ transplant dies but before he dies gives the money to his wife.

Cristian Mungiu: Even in the world of this people whom we consider as corrupt, there are rules, things you respect in a very different way. Survivors from such family they try to fulfil the last wish of the person who dies. A promise is a promise even if you might believe that it’s part of the whole of corrupt practices. It’s easy to condemn these things but we need to be very cautious when we judge these people because they have a history and it’s in that history when people learnt their mechanisms of survival. During the worst period of communism people wouldn’t think about ethical or moral principles. It was all about survival. So this is a long process to change back.

MOVIEMOVESME: What message do you want to send out to the people who see this film?

Cristian Mungiu: First of all, this is not a local phenomenon; it’s not just about Romania. I think it’s about human nature, lots of societies. I think that if you watch this film as a spectator you’ll see that it’s about you. If you’re careful enough, you’ll see that by following the story you’ll learn something about yourself. The most important thing you can learn is that from time to time it’s just good to watch yourself in the mirror and be truthful if you want to improve something about yourself.

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