Graduation Blu-ray Review

Graduation

Cristian Mungiu, whose recent film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills, garnered much international critical acclaim, seems to specialise in tough subjects.

He finds himself on similar ground with Graduation, a gritty film set in his native Romania, but thematically one which will resonate with parents around the world.

The opening shot is of a housing estate in a small Romanian town, before we are transported inside one of the dwellings. A brick is thrown through the window. The home’s occupant, Romeo, observes the scene and then hurries outside to try to catch the culprit.

That Romeo is not overly surprised by the broken window, but reacts instinctively, says a lot about him and his view of the neighbourhood.

We learn that Romeo is a surgeon, who is fiercely proud of his daughter Eliza. His wife, Magda, is suffering from some undescribed ailment and the two sleep separately.

Eliza is on the brink of sitting her final high school exams and, assuming all goes well, is in line to receive a scholarship at a certain London university. This is incredibly important to Romeo who is adamant that Eliza leaves Romania behind and finds a ‘better life’. To him, this means chasing squirrels in Kensington. A rather idealised view of London but hey-ho.

On the day before she is due to sit her exams, Eliza is assaulted, which in turn threatens her chances of achieving the required grades.

Whereas Magda tends to her daughter’s emotions post the attack, Romeo tries to find a solution to the impending academic issues. He finds himself making uneasy deals and alliances to try to secure the best future for his daughter. But will she agree with his methods?

When I initially heard that the film’s plot revolved around a father’s questionable actions following the assault of his daughter, I did admittedly conceive of some sort of Liam-Neeson-type retribution affair.

But this is a much more slow-moving and methodical piece, about bureaucratic back-scratching and the flexibility of parental morals in the face of any threat to their children’s happiness.

The takes are generally long, with often static camera work, immersing you thoroughly in the uncomfortable situations in which Romeo finds himself as he navigates a world he would rather avoid.

The tone is never judgemental, with Romeo’s actions seen to be as understandable as they are immoral. And all of the story’s participants react to the situation in a very real way, adding depth.

Eliza is both understanding of everything her dad has done for her thus far, but equally resentful about the lengths to which he would go. In parallel, Romeo’s mother cautions him about the feeling one experiences when their child finally leaves home, albeit to deaf ears.

Veteran actor Adrian Titieni anchors the film as Romeo, putting in a solid performance as a proud and determined man, but desperation never seems far from the surface.

Maria-Victoria Dragus manages to simultaneously convey strength, weakness, obedience and simmering rebelliousness as Eliza, and there are great supporting turns from Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici and frequent Mungiu-collaborator Vlad Ivanov as a slimy police chief.

Overall, a gripping film which ultimately succeeds in posing that ultimate of cinematic questions: what would you do?

Conor Brennan

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May 2017
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