Cristian Mungiu is already a preferred person at Cannes. After winning Palme d’Or in 2007 and Best Screenplay Award in 2012, this year he won Best Directing Award. Let’s take a look on his film from this year in the terms of the social portrait it makes, beyond other stakes it involves.
From this point of view, despite the fact that the film tells the drama of a family living in a small town, catching only few days of its existence, the social patterns are extremely diverse: (hospital) doctors, prosecutors, policemen, professors, a High School manager, a deputy Mayor, a retired ill woman, young people, teenagers, a student having the opportunity to study abroad, a kid having difficulties to be placed in the right school, parents, criminals.
The binder of all these items is the intercession. Mungiu describes a society decisively working with the help of the intermediary persons. It’s not an authoritarian manner of living, like somebody would have an important position by which he/she could abuse also outside his/her authority field. On the contrary, it’s a “democracy” of intercessions, a general exchange of privileged connections. In other words, an administrative problem, generally speaking, can be solved with a preferential treatment.
We don’t even have to do with personal interests – you often help a close person, a daughter in the story of this film. The film director, who is also the screenwriter, presents us a society of “friends” who mutually “understand” their needs and who appreciate that helping somebody is a human act, even a virtue, despite the restrictions stipulated by the law. Of course, this could also be a cover to their own consciences, since the envelopes with money or the luxuriant villas built, as we can imagine, by performing abundantly rewarded services are not missing from the story. For the ones who lived in the ‘80s in Ceausescu’s Romania (and Mungiu is among them), such a system of relationships meant to “humanize” a seriously dysfunctional state mechanism is not a chronic disease which appeared in the years of the local new capitalism, but an inheritance.
Can we blame some teachers of being merciful to a student – who was the victim of a rape attempt – and letting her writing over the legal time at the exam? But who can rely only on this kind of unpredictable reactions? In order to be operational, such a system must be “programmatic”. It cannot be left to chance.
But one of the main merits of the film is that it demonstrates the way in which this intercession is serving more profound necessities. The doctor, namely the girl’s father, whom he tries to help despite her wish, is living several dramas unrelated to the parent’s responsibilities: he is adulterous, but he doesn’t have the courage to leave his wife or to totally assume his new relationship; he is not excited about a possible pregnancy of his mistress, and even about the presence of her child; he seriously regrets his returning in Romania after the fall of the communist regime, and this is the reason for which he inoculated to his daughter the goal to migrate by studying.
His policeman friend hardly overcame the post-divorce depression and he deals intercession more successfully than the criminals; he knows what suffering means and he is unselfish pressing for a liver transplant obtained over time. The head of the exam committee is an “understanding” person, because the deputy Mayor has rescued his wife to remain unemployed right before he was ready to retire. All these people are, actually, socially vulnerable. Intercession is a way to illegally become a rich person, but also a perverse “therapy” in a society which is poorly made in some regards.
Actually, the most dangerous thing in such a society is the pedagogic blindness. The father tries to corrupt his daughter to make a small sign on her test paper, in order to draw the attention of the already warned correctors who should grant her a better mark than she deserves. He doesn’t realize the disastrous consequences of such an action towards a more sensitive soul – her boyfriend, instead, is not embarrassed at all that all his classmates have copied at the baccalaureate.
A minor act, apparently caused by the best intentions, may have extremely perverse consequences. Actually, the stake was the elementary self confidence of a teenager who enters into the adult’s social world. Because intercessions are like a drug which can discretely dislocate the normal moral physiology, which is full of vulnerabilities, as well as of resources. Some people use them occasionally, while others consider them a rescuing “relaxation”.