Name: Cristian Mungiu
Place of birth: Romania
Films include: Graduation; Beyond the Hills; Tales from the Golden Age; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; Occident; Zapping (short); Nothing by Chance (short); The Firemen’s Choir (short); The Hand of Paulista (short).
Accolades: Winner of the Palme d’Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in 2007, Best Director at Cannes for Graduation in 2016, France’s Order of Arts and Letters for contribution to cinema.
Contemporaries: Fellow filmmakers of the Romanian New Wave like Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarecsu, 2005), Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest, 2006) and Cristian Nemescu (California Dreamin’, 2007).
His films are about…: A consistent preoccupation with Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s regime and its legacy. There is also the sense of a growing frustration with bureaucracy and authoritarian systems and the individual’s desperate need to escape them. Repression and a seething violence that bursts forth without warning are common thematic elements in Mungiu’s cinema.
From the early Zapping to the episodic Tales from a Golden Age, Mungiu has been invested in representing life in Romania – be it the hardships during the country’s communist era or the absurdity of life in the decades that followed.
Style: Ranging between dry deadpan humour and symbolism in the early films and a darker aesthetic and minimalism in the later works.
Genre: Social realism – the prism through which the masterfully crafted human dramas unfold. In the context of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, critics have spoken about ‘ordeal cinema’ – an extreme form of realism where the film makes audiences live through the character’s ordeal.
Frequently associates with: Vlad Ivanov, most well known for his role as the abortionist in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
Why you should know him: Mungiu’s tendency to contextualise his cinema – his acute awareness of place, time, history and identity. Mungiu along with his new wave contemporaries have been loyal to the idea of creating a national cinema for Romania. From the early Zapping to the episodic Tales from a Golden Age, the filmmaker has been invested in representing life in Romania – be it the hardships during the country’s communist era or the absurdity of life in the decades that followed. Similarly, the stark Beyond the Hills questions the presence of archaic structures that still hold sway in modern-day Romania, while the recent Graduation tests a father’s ethical limits as he stops at nothing to give his daughter a life that he could only dream of – a dream that is only realizable outside Romania.
The first film you should see: The deeply disturbing 4 Months. Stylistically, look out for the long takes, the static camera and the sparse music. Critics have raved about the tableaux – the dinner sequence at the boyfriend’s house or the scene immediately after the procedure where the camera refuses to budge from Otilia’s face. Notable also are the ominously stretched moments of mounting tension ending in jarring shocks that Mungiu has mastered – the brilliantly tense scene in the car as Otilia overhears snippets of Mr Bebe’s conversation outside.
Fun fact: 4 Months is the only Romanian film to have won the Palme d’Or.