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Cristian Mungiu • Director

"There’s a link between corruption, compromising your principles and education"


- CANNES 2016: Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu tells us how Graduation, which had its world premiere in competition, was born

Cristian Mungiu • Director
(©T. Leibreich / Cannes Film Festival)

Flanked by his actors, Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu talked to the international press about the origins of Graduation [+see also:
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, which was presented in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, a cross between a human and societal piece, about corrupt deviation from the principle of trust.

Where did the idea for Graduation come from?
Cristian Mungiu: First of all, I’m a parent, I think a lot about what I should say to my children. And as my films always reflect what’s most important to me personally at any given time, I wanted to do something on children, parents and the truth. As we often think that a convenient truth is enough for children: we live in our adult world and fashion a whole other truth for children. But if we really want to bring our children up well, we have to have the courage to look in the mirror, tell ourselves that we’ve made some bad choices in life, live with it and talk about it with our children. Also, I read and collect a lot of different articles together, and had two files: one with little stories about corruption in Romania and another on education. Then one day, I noticed that some things were difficult to sort into one or the other file. And so, I thought it was important for me to mix my personal perception of children with that, because I find that in society, there’s a link between corruption, compromising your principles and education, and I think we have to think about that to put a stop to it. Moreover, I love having lots of levels in a film, and it’s not a social critique or a concept: it’s based on fact. It was also important to portray someone who feels a bit let down, at this stage of his life in which he realises that it’s too late to make new plans and that his accomplishments in life are all in the past. At this stage in his life, any energy he has left is focused on his children, and a lot of parents think they can redeem themselves through their children.

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Is the film specific to Romania or is it universal?
I try to make films about human nature, about the moral dilemmas that people can be faced with from one moment to the next in their lives. And I’m speaking to my generation about one of the biggest problems you can have as a parent: what morals you pass onto your child. When you live in Romania, it becomes even more of an issue, as you must decide, and it’s a decisive choice you make for your children, whether to advise them to stay or leave the country. My generation decided to stay as we had the energy to be born under communism and fight to change society. But nowadays, you could ask yourself how many generations should be sacrificed for a country. And when you’re talking to your children, it’s not always easy to answer that.

The film broaches very serious subjects with a lot of tension, but there is no anger at all.
There’s a lot of aggression in today’s society. When you live in a place where things aren’t regulated, you feel like emotions are running high as a lot of people feel let down. But I didn’t want the characters to appear that way. I wanted them to show above all that they love each other. Everything had to be very calm, very gentle.

Do you distinguish between hard and soft corruption?
It’s above all a difference in quantity. In the film, you see that if you put up with serious corruption, you don’t even notice when you resort to small-scale corruption in your life, as you’re never publicly judged for it. I wanted above all to explore the potential link between social corruption and the moral compromises we make in life without even noticing. So I portray parents who have only been able to survive in this country by making such compromises. The main character is pretty idealistic and rather naive compared to his children. He thinks he can save his daughter from all this corruption and imagines sending her to another country that is allegedly free from corruption. But it’s not really possible, it doesn’t really exist. We should perhaps review things and the way we bring up our children. It’s not what we say that matters, it’s what we do. When our children look at us, is it going to allow them to one day put an end to corruption and change things? Somewhere along the line, we have to be very strong, we have to have the courage to tell the truth, to look at what we’re doing, how we act, to once again weigh up the reasons for making this or that decision.

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(Translated from French)

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