As I was mentioning in a previous correspondence, every time when, in the official selection of Cannes, a filmmaker who already won Palme d’Or appears, the journalists begin to appreciate his chances to repeat the performance. If not, at least the chances to win another prize, for interpretation or for the screenplay. I thought to these things right after I’ve watched Cristian Mungiu’s new film, Bacalaureat (Baccalauréat/Graduation), same as my colleagues who are running all over here since morning to late in the night, going from a room to another to watch as many films as they can. Of course, the main attention is directed on the official competition having the symbol of the palm branch. Prizes are offered for a film, for a director, for actors and for screenwriters. In which of these categories there have been gathered the highest chances for the abovementioned Romanian film, Graduation, thanks to which Cristian Mungiu won the Directing Award? We remind that – in the Romanian film industry – a similar prize was offered at Cannes to Liviu Ciulei, in 1965, for the film called “Forest of the Hanged”.
Being a man of letters, also being a journalist himself, a writer, the film director knows how to create a story. He is focused mainly on the narrative process, but also on the story itself, therefore he chooses the theme, the fable, and then he structures the subject, drawing in an audiovisual manner the entire system of signs. Mungiu was defining his film as a realistic one, but not copying reality, but extracting its meanings. On the other hand, as he was underlining at the press conference, his new film is closer to his autobiographic experience. Thus, Mungiu portrays the father’s condition (he has two children), wishing to see their opportunities to be something in Romania, in a society which he wants to be without any compromise. There were also questions related to the corruption level, to the obstacles in his way, but the filmmaker, without avoiding the answer, showed that he was concerned by the universality of the subject (the parents – children relationship), in a context which sometimes puts setbacks, forcing you to adapt to it, or to unconditionally surrender yourself.
The film is actually built around a father, a surgeon from a Transylvanian locality, who is hardly working at all levels, since his daughter, who was the victim of a rape attempt, is forced to stay for a while with her hand in plaster. Although she won a place to a university in England, she cannot be sure of it unless she graduates – that’s why the film is called Graduation. Eliza risks to miss the chance, a long prepared moment by her parents, of course, with her father’s intense cooperation. Thus, he wants to redeem the error of returning in Romania in 1992, and now he is determined to endure the long period of time in which he and his daughter will be separated. Things become complex in the family. His mother is ill, suffering of a heart attack. His wife has moments of lethargy, suffering of headaches all the time. Besides, Eliza is attached to Marius, whom she can hardly leave. In this complicated circumstance, without listening his mother’s advice (who disagrees that her nephew has to leave the country), the surgeon Romeo Aldea makes the things even harder by having an extramarital relationship with Sandra, a former patient.
Therefore, the screenplay was considered, since it is interesting by the novelty of the subject.
We should also remark the directing approach in this matter. There are many sequence-frames (which is confirmed by the most interpreters who were present at the press conference), as well as many changes of pace, even genre categories. There are also some leitmotifs which make the film to have a relevant system of signs: the window of the building, broken by an unknown person; or honking when passing near Sandra’s building.
A third argument comes from the interpretation area. We meet an Adrian Titieni (Romeo) whom the role fits like a glove, playing in a balanced manner, under a pressure which is going to blow, anyway. We have also an excellent plenty of actresses: we can read the anxiety, together with resignation on Lia Bugnar’s face; Eliza’s character is played by a very talented and intelligent young hope, Maria Dragus, which we recall from the Michael Haneke’s film, The White Ribbon, where she played Kiara; she already has an interesting film portfolio abroad. Malina Manovici (Sandra) convincingly pictures the drama of a more than 30 years old lonely woman, having a child with health problems and waiting for the second one, whose father, Romeo, still has a lot of hesitations. The interpreter of the unlikable Mr. Bebe (the feldsher in the film rewarded with Palm d’Or in 2007, namely 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days) is also on the Mungiu’s main titles list. This time Vlad Ivanov plays a helpful, genial police inspector, pretty close to the similar role from Police, Adjective by Corneliu Porumboiu. Gelu Colxeag fits perfectly to the chairman of the exam committee. We should also mention a young actor that we will hear again, for sure – Rares Andrici (Marius, Eliza’s boyfriend).
Therefore, all of these represent possible reasons to admit that Graduation couldn’t miss an important position on the record list in 2016.
Other subjects were also approached at the press conference, including the delicate problem of the lack of cinema rooms. The director wished to mention that a solution for increasing the interest for his film and for avoiding piracy was to organize a double premiere, at Cannes and, in the same day, in Bucharest, at Palace Hall. It was praised the consistency of the National Center of the Cinematography to support the small budget films, since it is a solution which encourages the young filmmakers. The consequences of cooperating with the French film industry will produce a proper and efficient framework for animating the local film industry. The managerial experience of the director also speaks itself, of course. The prizes offered to his films at Cannes, including the ones acquired by Beyond the Hills (for the best screenplay and double rewarded for the feminine interpretation) were considered in ensuring the best distribution of the new production. Graduation has already been sold, since it was a screenplay, in around 30 countries, which is a performance for a Romanian film.
Ex-aequo, the same prize was awarded the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, for staging the film Personal Schopper.
Preview at the awards evening at Cannes: Ambiguity – a perfect character for Isabelle Huppert
Last day of competition – Saturday, before the usual Sunday repeating of the titles on the list of the previous screenings, a sort of final review – has brought on the screens in Cannes “Elle” by Paul Verhoeven, having Isabelle Huppert in the main role. Of course, with such a name on the poster, the film can only capture the maximum interest of the public and the press. The Dutch filmmaker shocked every time, from the much-commented “Basic Instinct” to the recent “Tricked”, a TV production based on a subject created by internet surfers, in which each frame was filmed by two cameras (as in the case of “Elle”). The attention of the audience was exponentially increased by the meeting of Isabelle Huppert, a great talent and an expert of the artistic challenges.
The film consists in the screening of a novel wrote by Philippe Dijan, whose adaptation for the big screen was suggested to the director by the producer Said Ben Said. Although the title of the novel (“Oh…”) wasn’t kept for the film also, it seems to tell everything or at least pretty much, for sure, about the dramaturgical orientation of the project. This results, of course, from the data of the character which become genuine, credible, thanks to the style of playing such a diverse script. As the actress was stating in an interview, Michéle is multiple: “cynical, generous, attached, cold, independent, dependant”. Being the victim of a rape, married but separated, with a dying mother, with a sun who makes the mistake, the imprudence, to accept a child that obviously couldn’t be his child (the color of the skin speaks), influenced by the fact that she is the descendent of a father who was convicted for mass murder, Michéle tries to assume her biography and not to commit final actions. On the contrary, she has the knowledge to capture others’ interest, to attract them in a complicated process, at the end of which the guilty will have to be punished. She is a new powerful feminine character, as most of the interpreted heroines. It’s not hard for us to admit that the film is built both around the character and the actress. Isabelle Huppert carries all the epic structure of the film on her shoulders. She appears in almost each scene or frame, being every time the center of gravity.
Everybody knows that Isabelle Huppert is a preferred person for the international awards, at Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Moscow and, of course (especially) at Cannes. We remember, of course, the interpret of the weird musician in the Michael Haneke’s film “The Piano Teacher”, without leaving apart a similar prize, thanks to “Violette Noziere”, directed by Claude Chabrol. She’s not only a great actress, totally special, but she’s also a myth, a living legend of the French and international film industry. The presence of such a personality here, at Cannes, represents an event, and her interpretation is a unique gift. I think that, once again, she will not miss the feminine interpretation award. There are also other actresses to be considered, but it would be a mistake for the jury led by George Miller not to reward her for her rare artistry, for her gentleness and “ambiguity”, for the complexity in defining the character of a hard living woman, but able to act lucidly, in the name of the realities which she has experienced in her life. Her final leave together with a loyal friend, Ana, gives to the film a tone of an open end. Paul Verhoeven is using a lack in order to give some special tones to the story, in the same way in which, thanks to a sort of a regressive flash-back, he was imprinting a mental leitmotif in the entire development. Subject to a restatement in the direct, current matter of the film, the story is constructed in a special narrative tension. The genres are well dosed, so that it’s difficult to qualify the film as being a love story or a policier.
The press conference at 11.30 am offered the occasion to meet a large team, including, of course, the film director (Paul Verhoeven), the screenwriter (Davis Birke), and the producer (Said Ben Said). We have applauded a lot of very good actors, but the icing on the cake was Isabelle Huppert.