Cristian Mungiu

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7.3 Occident/ West (2002)
7.0 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
7.2 Beyond the Hills (2012)
7.1 Bacalaureat/ Graduation (2016)
6.8 Cristian Mungiu: R.M.N. (2022)

Cristian Mungiu (Romania, 1968) debuted with Occident/ West (2002). The film is constructed as three interlocking narratives, which wouldn't be groundbreaking in the age of Pulp Fiction, but the director teases the viewer by not showing the whole picture in a way to confounds the viewer about what happened. It's a comedy, or better a meta-comedy, not about the story in the film, but about how the director plays with the psychology of the viewer. In a sense the protagonists of the film are the director and the viewer. The story itself, fairly complicated, satire on racism and the desire of Romanians to emigrate, is just a pretext for the director to unveil the way viewers perceive reality in a film. An unmarried couple that is struggling financially, 29-year-old Luci and his wife Sorina, gets evicted, their furniture thrown in the backyard. Sorina decides to visit her father's tomb, convinced that he will give them a sign. Luci finds a ring in the grass and gets hit by a bottle that falls from the sky and drops unconscious. Sorina stops a Frenchman, Jerome, who is driving by, and takes him to the hospital. Sorina is tired that they don't have a house and Luci, who is unemployed, can only plan is that when his aunt, who raised him, dies, he will inherit her apartment as she promised. The old woman only lives to wait for her son Nicu to visit: Nicu emigrated to Germany. While he is visiting her, Sorina disappears with the furniture. He finds her at the school where she teaches and she tells him that she found a place to stay but it's a small room. Luci is hired as an ad man who has to weear a funny suit to advertise a product in the streets of the city. In his new job he meets a fellow worker, ad-woman Mihaela, who is dressed like a mobile phone. He prepares a romantic light and balloon show to propose to his wife but find out that she moved somewhere else without telling him. Luci and his friend Gica track down Sorina in a nice house: she has moved in with the Frechman, Jerome. She claims that she sleeps in the kitchen and that Jerome is going back in a week. One day a cop, who looks distraught, and a young man deliver the news that Nicu died in Germany. The young man was a friend of Nicu in Germany. We don't hear their conversation with Luci. We don't see the woman who drops We only see the cop knocking at the door of Luci's aunt, saying "your son died" and we hear a woman dropping to the floor, perhaps dead. The we see Gica telling Luci to rush to tell Sorina that he now has a house. We assume that the aunt died and Luci has a house because he will inherit his aunt's house. Luci bikes in the rain to the Frenchman's house. He, however, finds that Sorina has left for France with Jerome.
Mihaela is getting married with Vasile but Vasile is nowhere to be found. Her father is the cop who delivered the sad news to Luci's aunt. We now see that Mihaela was crying at the cemetery when Luci was struck by the bottle and Jerome almost stopped for her before being summoned by Sorina. We then see Luci and Mihaela hanging out together after they met as ad people. Mihaela's mother is now worried that nobody will want to marry Mihaela. Mihaela wants to become a writer. Her mother wants her to marry a rich man. Mihaela wants a man who will like her poems. Her mother arranges for her to go out with a Dutch man, Michel (whom we already saw in Sorina's school, looking to adopt an orphaned child from her kindergarten). Mihaela's mother hires an agency and so Mihaela gets to interview several men. And one day Sorina and Jerome drive by and see her inside a restaurant. Mihaela is happy going out with the mediocre Luci but her mom insists and finds her a good prospect, a 23-year-old Italian who owns a publishing house in Milano. Mihaela doesn't care about the money but this is an opportunity to get her poems published. She quits her job and bids farewell to Luci. In preparation for the first meeting with the Italian, her parents remodel the apartment and Mihaela studies a little bit of Italian language. Luigi, however, turns out to be a black man. Clearly the family is not happy with a black man. Mihaela walks crying to her room. Her parents are petrified. We then see Mihaela's father, the cop, and Nicu's friend discussing Nicu's death with Luci. Mihaela's father cries because Mihaela has decided to accept the marriage and she'll soon move out. Learning that Luci needs a place, he offers him Mihaela's room. Then the trio walk to the apartment to deliver the news of Nicu's death to Luci's aunt, but now we see that the woman who opens the door is the servant: she's the one fainting when she hears "your son is dead". Luci's aunt still doesn't know that Nicu is dead. Gica, learning that Luci has been offered a room by the cop, tells him to rush to tell Sorina. We see Luci in the empty apartment: Sorina has left with Jerome. But then we see what happens next: we see Sorina stopping the car and running back to Luci.
A flashback shows the cop retiring from the force. He attends a last event, a presentation by the Dutchman, who now we learn is there to train Romanian police. The cop is relaxed about the future. His wife is worried that Mihaela is marrying a man with no money and no parents, but he tells her that he will provide for them. Now we see Luci finding a ring in the grass, the ring lost by the groom. We see that Mihaela's father found the groom drunk in the cemetery and the groom threw the bottle in the sky: that's the bottle that hit Luci. We now see that the cop told the groom to get lost. We then see Nicu's friend Nae walking into the police station to report a theft: someone stole a suitcase that contained something personal. Nae wants to speak specifically with Mihaela's father. It turns out that 12 years earlier the cop caught him while he was trying to escape Romania. The secret police beat him up and the cop, feeling guilty, told him that he would help him if he ever needed help. Nae now needs his help to track down Nicu's aunt and Luci because Nicu died in a car accident. We learn that Nicu and Luci tried to escape but only Nicu succeeded, by floating across the river inside a plastic inflatable woman (the kind used for sex). The cop promises to help. The cop walks home just when his wife is contacting Luigi on the phone. We then see the dinner with Luigi: the father is very distressed. The cop attends a ceremony during which the Dutchman adopts the orphan. Sorina is there, crying after breaking up with Luci. The cop is shocked to learn that Mihaela wants to move to Italy with black man Luigi. The cop asks Nae to take his daughter Mihaela to Germany so she doesn't leave with Luigi. Eventually the cops find Luci and the cop takes Nae to meet him. Luci learns that Nicu was not such a good guy, which we already guessed because he never came back to visit his mother. Then we see what happened after the servant fainted: Luci tries to tell his aunt that her son (not the servant's son) died but she doesn't let him finish and wants to believe that Nicu is fine and just too busy. We then see Sorina and Luci kissing passionately in the Frenchman's empty apartment while Jerome waits outside in his car. Sorina in tears tells Luci that she wants to leave. Luci doesn't answer. Sorina walks away and gets back in Jerome's car. The following day Nae drives Mihaela to bid goodbye to Luci. Both the women who could have married him have left him.

4 Luni 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile/ 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), set in the Ceausescu years, is virtually a horror movie, except that it is about the psychological humiliation of two girls and not a gorey massacre.

During the communist regime in Romania, two female students who share a room in a dorm, the shy Gabita and the more experienced and bossy Otilia, are preparing for a two-day trip because Gabita needs an abortion. Gabita gives Otilia a sum of money. Later Otilia meets her boyfriend Adi who is about to take an exam and he too gives her money. They argue because he wants her to attend his mother's birthday dinner and she would prefer not to because she has something else more important to do. She reluctantly agrees to show up and to buy flowers. She then looks for a hotel, a process which involves dealing with unfriendly bureaucrat. Then she tells Gabita where to meet, and heads for the place where the doctor, Bebe, is waiting. It's a quick tour of the dilapidated urban landscape of the communist country. They finally arrive at the hotel where the staff is unfriendly as usual. The "doctor" is even more unfriendly to the girls. He interrogates Gabita to find out exactly how pregnant she is and, when he finds out she's already in the fourth month, he is upset. Otilia offers the money that a friend advised her to give him. He laughs at the amount and instead demands sex with both. Gabita is shocked and embarrassed. The man is ready to walk out. Having already paid for the hotel and not being in a position to postpone any longer, Gabita begs him. They offer him more money promising they will raise it quickly. The man wants to walk out of the deal. Then the rational Otilia offers herself. She coldly undresses and let him have sex with her, while Gabita runs water from the sink in the bathroom to cover the noise. Then Otilia walks into the bathroom to wash herself and it's Gabita's turn. Otilia can hear her sobbing while she performs her duty. Once they are done, the doctor proceeds to perform the abortion in a very cold and detached manner. He gives Otilia instructions on how to dispose of the fetus so that the police will not be alerted. He has warned Gabita that she will bleed copiously. In the meantime Otilia has opened his briefcase and found a knife in it, that she hides. Otilia is obviously a good friend: she has gone through hell in order to help Gabita, despite the fact that Gabita failed to do or lied about so many things. (It was Gabita who was supposed to book the hotel room, and it was Gabita who was supposed to meet the taxi driver, and it made a difference that she was four-month pregnant). Otilia leaves Gabita to go to Adi's place. She has forgot to buy the flowers and she is late. During the dinner the guests, mostly doctors, argue about the lack of good manners. When Otilia accepts a cigarette, one of them points out that it's a lack of respect towards Adi's parents. The phone was ringing but nobody picked it up. They drink to Adi's mother. Then Adi and Otilia move to his room and she tells him what happened (except the sex part). Otilia asks Adi what he would do if she got pregnant, and realizes that he has no clue. He is opposed to abortion but has no alternative. Otilia reflects that Gabita is the only one who would help her (indirectly, she explains why she helped Gabita even if Gabita represented such a nightmare). Otilia is disappointed in Adi, and even resents it when Adi tries to make peace. She calls Gabita but there is no answer from the room. Otilia hurries back to the hotel running through dark alleys (and vomiting the dinner). When she gets to the room, she finds Gabita asleep. Gabita whispers that she got rid of it. Otilia has to collect the fetus from the bathroom, wrap it in a bag, and dispose of it (dropping it in the garbage chute of a building). Back at the hotel she finds Gabita eating and smoking at the restaurant. They agree that they will never talk about the whole fact ever again.

Beyond the Hills (2012), set in an isolated monastery in the countryside, based on Tatiana Niculescu's books "Spovedanie la Tanacu/ Deadly Confession" (2006) and "Cartea Judecatorilor/ Judges' Book" (2008), is an extreme love story mixes with a story of religious superstition.

Voichita and Alina, two young women, meet at a train station and the meeting is emotional. They take a train to a remote convent where there is no electricity. Voichita is a nun there, Alina has just returned to Romania after many years in Germany. The convent is run by a male priest whom the nuns call "daddy". Voichita asks "daddy" permission to travel to Germany with Alina because Alina feels lonely there. Daddy reminds her that she is a nun. We learn during dinner that the convent has no money and has to support the orphanage where Voichita and Alina grew up like sisters. Daddy is a conservative priest who is appalled by the decadence of Western Europe, by its tolerance for homosexuality and drugs. From Alina's words, it appears that the two girls were lovers. The priest wants Alina to confess. Voichita tells Alina about an altar with an icon that grants wishes. Voichita travels to town with the priest and mother superior to deliver food to the orphanage. They meet a girl who has exceeded her age and needs a new place to live but the convent is full until a nun leaves. While in town, Voichita sneaks out and secretly applies for a passport at the police station in order to travel to Germany. When she returns to the convent, we learn that Alina made plans for Voichita to move with her to Germany and work on a cruise ship. Voichita, however, has second thoughts and doesn't want to leave the convent, which is now her family. Alina desperately wants her Voichita to come and live with her, and gets bitter about her refusal. Alina even attacks the priest, as if possessed by the devil, holding him responsible for Voichita's bigotry, and looks suicidal and then has an epileptic fit. The priest has Alina tied up and then drives her to the hospital. Alina even beats up the nurses of the hospital. Days later, Voichita fetches Alina's mentally retarded brother and visits Alina at the hospital. Alina has calmed down and can be released but she has no place to go. The doctor's prognosis is vague: he basically recommends that she reads from the Bible. Voichita begs the priest to let Alina stay at the convent. The nuns are afraid of Alina and begin to see signs of the devil in everything, but the priest ignores and scolds their superstition. Alina confesses her sins to the priest and the priest recommends that she fasts. Voichita, innocent and sweet, tries in vain to soothe Alina, who is inherently rebellious. Alina wants only one thing: to stay with Voichita. The priest understands that Alina is not a devout believer and asks her to leave. A good couple, Elena and her husband, who already hosted Alina before she moved to Germany, agrees to take Alina in, but Alina is resentful of being separeted from Voichita. Suddenly Alina decides to donate all her belongings to the convent so that she will qualify to be admitted as an aspiring nun. To those who advise Alina against such a dramatic step, Alina simply repeats what the priest told her about loving God above everything else. Before leaving Elena's place she realizes that they spent some of her money. She donates what is left to the convent, but warns another girl staying with Elena not to trust them with money. She doesn't sound at peace with God at all, just determined to live with Voichita wherever Voichita lives. And so the priest has to take her back into the convent. As soon as she's back at the convent, Alina tries to convince Voichita to flee with her, treating her as if she's been brainwashed by the priest, but this only terrifies Voichita. Alina just keep repeating that she needs Voichita, and she's willing to do anything to be with her. The following day they catch Alina as she's trying to enter to the priest's private area to pray at the altar with the holy icon. When the priest stops her, Alina insults him and turns violent. The priest concludes that she is possessed by the devil and locks her in a cell. The priest now wants not only Alina but also Voichita to move out, which makes Voichita desperate because the convent is her home, the nuns her family no other family nor place to go. The priest is about to officiate an important mass, for which the church of the convent has been newly painted. It is almost Easter and the service will be attended by many people. Alina has another epileptic fit and the nuns have to tie her down while the priest attempts an exorcism. Alina seems to be gone completely mad. During the night Voichita unties Alina and tells her to flee. Alina instead stays and calms down, surprising the nuns with her apparent recovery. But then she faints. They take her urgently to the hospital but she arrives dead. The doctor of the hospital notices the marks on the wrists and ankles (caused by the ropes) and accuses the nuns of homicide. The police investigate the death which to them appears involuntary manslaughter. After hearing their version of the story, the police take the priest and the nuns away. Voichita volunteers to go too, and she's not wearing a nun's dress anymore. As they drive into town, children throw a snowball at the police van.

Bacalaureat/ Graduation (2016)

R.M.N. (2022)

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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