Cristian Mongiu grew up in a Communist dictatorship with a fully developed secret police. He managed to avoid military service by continuing his education, graduating with a degree in English literature. He is fluent in English, French and his native Romanian. He had little access to films in theatres, but in the 1980's with VCR he watched and shared many movies, even helping to translate some of them. Like many Romanians he was aware of events in Europe mainly through Radio Free Europe, but was caught off guard by the 1989 Romanian Revolution. He was in journalism at the time which underwent dramatic changes as the censor regime collapsed.
In the 1990's he decided to go to a film school. There were no actual copies of most of the movies they were studying. He felt his knowledge of films was very little when he graduated in 1998.
In 2003 Cristian formed Mobra Films with Oleg Motu and Hanno Hofer. Hanno Hofer was a composer who did the music for two of Cristian's movies. Oleg Motu was a cinematographer who supervised the camera work for many of Cristian's movies and had won some international awards.
"Occident" (2002) was Cristian's first film as director and writer. It was a comedy about Romanian society. It was nominated for the Cannes Film Festival.
"4 Months 3 weeks and 2 days" (2007) won the Palme d'or (plus two other awards) at Cannes,
but when it came to the Oscars it failed to make the short list. This
upset authorities and they instituted new rules. Very emotional
topic--abortion, specifically an illegal abortion. It is not likely to
change the opinion of many, In Romania of 1987 abortion would result
in a prison sentence or even worse. We don't know the background but
one room mate wants an abortion and the other agrees to help. Somehow
they contacted an illegal abortionist and soon find themselves being
manipulated by him for more money. They are already near the
end of their resources, but push further.
What shocks viewers is an explicit replica of a fetus with some recognizable human features being dumped. It is only for a few seconds, but lets viewers know a life is lost.
Vlad Ivanov who plays the tough abortionist went on to act in "Graduation." and "Tales from the Golden Age" with Cristian. Two other noteworthy Romanian film for him was "Police, Adjective" (2009 directed by Cornelius Pormboiu)) and "Child's Pose" (2010 directed by Calin Peter Netza) with each winning two awards at Cannes He went on to an international career with "Whistleblower" (2010), "SnowPiercer" (20130 and "Toni Erdman" (2016).
Another actor, Alexandru Potocean was also in "Whistleblower" Another international film for him was "The Way Back." (2010)/
"Tales from a Golden Age" (2009) was written by Cristian, but used several directors for different segments. Broken down to a number of
short stories each of which highlights as aspect under Communist rule
from a satirical perspective. Among other motives it seems Cristian
used his international fame to leverage more respect for Romanian film
"Beyond the Hills" (2012) was originally inspired by an incident in a
monastery, but it was decided to develop another story line. It has
been criticized as being anti-religious, but it is dealing with deep
human emotions. The priest as portrayed as a honest man striving to do
the right thing. What drew the director/writer was the exorcism that
resulted in a death.
This film won for Cristian, the best script award at Cannes and best actress for Cristina Flutar.
Cristian had to seek more money and with that as he puts it, you get more "opinions." Noteworthy with this movie he included the two Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and they also helped with "Graduation."
The DVD came with an interesting
second disc with special features. Sitting in a comfortable chair or
couch and being entertained for about two hours one is not really
conscious of all the work that goes into a film. It started based on an
actual event, but Cristian decided to not follow too exactly. He did try to
duplicate the landscape and buildings which required a long period of
building so much that rehearsals started while construction was still in
progress. The film was set partly in winter which meant waiting for
snow, but then they had planned to work through heavy weather but found
that the cold was difficult. He also demonstrated some of the details
Valeriu Andriuta had appeared in "Occident" and while planning this film Cristian not quite willing to make a commitment was looking for Valeriu's type to play the priest. The catch was he wanted the priest to have a traditional beard. He had not seen Valeriu for several years as he had moved to Ireland and not been involved with acting. Over the phone he asked Valeriu if had a beard and ironically he had until the day before when he had shaved it off. Without a commitment he agreed to start growing one. In the end he played a very convincing priest. Valeriu also appeared in "Graduation" in a bit role.
"Graduation" (2016) dealt a lot with corruption, but Cristian indicates that the underlying theme is to do with parenting. In society parents need to educate their children to the realities. In Romania there is level of corruption that affects everyone. "We all complain in Romania about the level of corruption without understanding that we are responsible for it."
It came out that Mongiu believes in many takes. He explains that he is trying to maintain a precise emotion. He invites the editor to the filming as part of the process.
At a forum (from special features) Cristian expressed concerns that there aren't enough theatres in Romania, large numbers having been closed. He wanted to debut his film at the same tie as shown for the Cannes festival, but couldn't. He also felt viewers needed to be better educated to appreciate films that aren't "popular." Earlier" 4 months 3 weeks 2 days" was put on a tour. The number of theatres has gradually increased, but Critsian still feels most Romanians see films as only entertainment whereas he feels they also can be more
In addition to writing, directing and directing his own films Cristian has produced other films and television shows. Most recently a producer for a German-Romanian series, "Hackerville" (2018).
In response to a question at Cannes Cristian explained that there is always a story behind the action in the film. We never exactly know what brought the characters to where we first see them. He feels everyone is limited in their choices by their upbringing and education.
Cristian, a frequent visitor to Cannes felt that Cannes helps to preserve smaller movies,(not the more popular blockbusters). The world benefits from more diversity.
Romania is yet another country that offers the world worthy films. Although Cristian is pre eminent he is not the only one and is supported by actors and technical people.