Success brings changes for '4 Months' director

BERLIN — Winning the Palme d’Or is a career-changing experience for any filmmaker, but for Cristian Mungiu, whose “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” took this year’s top honor at the Cannes Film Festival and is unspooling in Pusan, life has changed in small but incremental ways. Not that he’s complaining.

“Back in February,” Mungiu (three syllables, stress on the second) says in lightly accented English, “I thought we wouldn’t be ready. Then, that we had no chance in the Competition. Then we got accepted. Then maybe we did have a chance to win something. Then I saw the press and, by the end, thought we had quite a good one!”

When award night rolled round, Mungiu was “half dizzy, half overwhelmed. I had no idea and was prepared for whatever. It wasn’t huge joy but certainly pleasing and relieving. I was so busy, focused on my speech. I needed two minutes for that and was still thinking about what to say while I was in the audience.”

Mungiu hasn’t yet started anything new since “4 Months” gained steam, so “the change is not overwhelming. But I do have obligations that consume a lot of energy and time. I need to give interviews, deliver materials to (sales agent) Wild Bunch. Nobody expected the film to sell to 60 territories. All in all, I’m very busy, tired and have to be careful not to offend people by not replying to them.”

And the upside? “French and German companies are interested in my next project, so fund-raising is going to be easier. But it’s not got any easier finding a good next story.”

Agents wouldn’t be agents if they weren’t beating a path to Bucharest, and while “all the major agencies are somehow interested in cooperating,” Mungiu says, “I’m talking to a few but haven’t made a decision or signed anything yet. I need to finish promoting ‘4 Months’ and will then decide.”

So the flight to LAX remains unbooked at present, and Mungiu admits he’s reticent about his next project.

“It’s fair to say I don’t know what my obligations would be if I do a studio film. I know I wouldn’t have the kind of freedom I do now, not on the script and final cut. It’s not that I don’t understand this system, I’m just not sure if I want to work in it for the moment.”

With “4 Months” heading Stateside after being bought by IFC, Mungiu has noticed increased press interest already and is curious about how American filmgoers will take to the movie.

“I can’t depict the average American filmgoer very easily,” he says. “I had a very good reception at Telluride, so if I could have only half of that in the rest of the U.S. I’d be very happy. I’ve had a very good reaction around the world, but I wonder how U.S. preconceptions would affect it. People think it’s about abortion. The hard part is getting them to see it in the first place.”

His current project, “Tales From the Golden Age,” started as a series of shorts each lasting 30 minutes, depicting a personal history of communist times in Romania.

“Later,” says Mungiu, “I decided to add a second film to the project, a feature, which was ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.’ That was because the tone in ‘Tales’ was light and funny and I was afraid people would not grasp the difference between how I want to remember things and how it really was in Romania. So I wanted to balance things by adding a more sober, harsher film. Later, I decided to open ‘Tales’ to other directors: each will direct one episode from the original series.”

Mungiu says problems remain for Romanian cinema and he doesn’t expect the system to change, despite the spotlight “4 Months” has shone.

“We have only 35 cinemas for 20 million people,” he explains. “That’s why I’m self-distributing. I’ve rented equipment from Germany and will do 15 towns in 30 days. I can finance this now, thanks to the Palme d’Or prize money and private financing.”

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