Taking a real police case–it was also the subject of a novel called “Deadly Confession” (2006) by Romanian writer Tatiana Niculescu Bran–and fictionalizing it for the big screen, Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu took his new film “După dealuri” (“Beyond the hills” in Romanian) to Cannes and walked away with two wins (Mungiu previously earned the festival’s top honor, the Palme D’Or): best screenplay, and his leads won for best female interpretation. In “După Dealuri” a young woman who’s retired to a convent is confronted by her past in the form of a lover who’s come to stay with her after an unsuccessful attempt to work outside Romania. How will she deal with this unwanted disturbance? Will her faith in god be compromised by it? “După dealuri” is slow-brewing and fascinating. Shooting on location was nearly impossible, however, as we found out. We caught up with Cristian Mungiu, spoke briefly, and asked a few pointed questions.
Screen Comment: I notice you like to cast new actors in every new movie you shoot, is this a conscious thing? Are you motivated to give as many upcoming actors a chance to appear in your movies?
Cristian Mungiu: Actually, I often work again with the actors that had roles in my previous films. What is true is that I avoid using them again as main characters immediately after their previous role as a main character, especially if the part is not very different: I don’t think this would be good, neither for the film, nor for them. Whenever I have the possibility to work with them again offering them a very different part than before, I do: I used Vlad Ivanov in “Tales from the Golden Age,” right after “4 month, 3 weeks and 2 days” because I could cast him as a shy silent driver after he had interpreted a tough merciless abortionist. I am trying to choose for each character in the screenplay the actor which is the closest to what I imagined about that character when I was writing: in terms of attitude, looks, manner of speech and so on. I don’t choose actors because they are unknown or experienced, professionals or nonprofessionals, friends or stars and so on–I chose what I think it’s best for the film. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.
Your previous film (2009’s “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days”) featured strong women protagonists, same thing with “După dealuri.” Do women provide you with more inspiration when you think up your characters?
The protagonist of my first film “Occident” was a man, but it’s true that these two films that you mention have as protagonists a couple of girls having a relationship and a man with a strong role upon their decisions. This is probably because I don’t start from a character when I start writing; I need to have a basic story and it happened that these two stories involved such a trio. Still, they are very different, as stories, as cinematic patterns and also the relationships between the three characters are very different.
Is Romania a matriarchal society?
I don’t know how Romania is considered. I see it mostly as a traditionalist country with the man being the head of the family and the woman “the neck,” as people like to say at the countryside.
Did you feel pressure going to Cannes? Were you worried about people’s reactions?
First of all I was glad to be in competition; that was the biggest pressure, after the Palme d’Or. I hoped that as many people as possible will be challenged by the film and will reflect upon their own point of view about the story and about their own relationship to religion–but I wasn’t worried: if you make a fifty-million dollar romantic comedy and people don’t like it, then you have to be worried.
Can you describe one major difficulty encountered while shooting “După dealuri”?
I shot only with long takes a one hundred-fifty-minute film working twelve hours a day during winter time, sometimes in -15 degree weather in a cold set built on a windy hill, having to stage very tough and violent scenes that challenged the actors mentally, physically and morally, so it’s hard to pick up just one.