Graduation (2016)

Review #1,626

Director:  Cristian Mungiu
Cast:   Adrian Titieni, Maria Dragus, Lia Bugnar
Plot:  On the day before her first written exam, Eliza is assaulted in an attack that could jeopardize her entire future.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Best Director (Cannes)
Runtime:  128 mins
Rating:  Not rated (likely to be NC16 for coarse language)
International Sales:  Wild Bunch

“You know, in '91, your Mum and I decided to move back.  It was a bad decision.  We thought things would change, we thought we'd move mountains.”

I first heard of Cristian Mungiu from his most highly-lauded work, the Cannes Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007).  He has since made three more films, including an omnibus work that he wrote and co-directed.  Graduation is his latest, and judging by his patient approach to developing projects, we might not see another new work till at least 2020.  Some have called Graduation his most mature effort to date, while others have regarded it as a ‘lesser’ film in the context of his filmography.  It won Best Director at Cannes, tying with Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper (2016), and beating his compatriot Cristi Puiu’s three-hour long Sieranevada (2016), which I think is a more fascinating film.  

Nonetheless, Graduation is compelling on its own terms, and because it is not as expansive in its locale (think Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2011)), nor as gritty as 4 Months, it is in a way a film that the director has not made before, and its story and scenes which are so contemporary and urbanely familiar may even belie its thematic richness and allegorical intent.  One could say that Graduation is a restrained drama with performances that resist caricatures or melodrama.  

Romeo (Adrian Titieni) is a respected surgeon who has been a man of integrity for all of his professional life, but with a strained relationship with his wife, and a daughter who seems increasingly distant, he begins to feel that what he does out of love is not appreciated or reciprocated.  When his daughter suffers a traumatic incident on the eve of an important examination (one where excellent grades will justify a scholarship to study in the UK), the incorruptible Romeo is faced with a moral dilemma: how can he ‘best’ help his daughter clinch that scholarship to send her away from their godforsaken country.  

Through this relatively straightforward tale about parental love and choices, Mungiu paints a picture of Romanian society existing in a constant state of perpetual wretchedness, where bribery and corruption are not just rampant, but a chronic cultural disease.  Despite its contemporaneous nature, Graduation is also about three generations of Romanians—the old who lived through a dictatorship, the middle-aged who believed in their country but didn’t do enough to change their society, and the young who must make decisions independent of the past and their affiliations.  On this note, the film title, “Graduation” then becomes not just a milestone in an educated individual’s life, but an ideal that Romania must strive for in order to progress.

Verdict:  An effortless if restrained effort by Mungiu that compellingly captures the state of Romanian society through one father’s series of moral dilemmas.




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