DIR/WRI/PRO: Cristian Mungia • DOP: Tudor Vladimir Panduru • ED: Mircea Olteanu• DES: Simona Paduretu • MUS: Christopher Lennertz • CAST: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici
If there was any word to describe a film by Christian Mungiu, it would be bleak. Nearly a decade ago, Mungiu garnered international attention at Cannes with 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, a drama set in 1980s Romania where a woman seeks her friend’s help in arranging an illegal abortion but find themselves at the mercy of an abortionist who exploits them for financial and sexual favours. The Romanian-born director thrives in scenarios and narratives which offer little opportunity to lighten its tone, and Graduation is by no means an exception. By the very end, the only feeling that’s left is complete abjection but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Graduation concerns itself with a similar theme in Mungiu’s films, exploring unethical and corrupt behaviour but on a more intricate scale compared to earlier films. If anything, Graduation seems like an appropriate film for a time of great radical and uncertain change in the political landscape across America and the EU. What begins as a father (Romeo played by Adrian Titieni) ensuring his daughter’s (Eliza played by Maria-Victoria Dragus) opportunity to prosper in the UK, quickly unravels beyond repair. After Eliza is assaulted, Romeo becomes determined to set it aside and push her through completing her exams. In a string of nepotism in local government, police, education, and hospitals, Romeo finds himself in the midst of illegal activity as he tries to garner favours that grant Eliza admission into university regardless of her result. However, her future remains uncertain as everyone, including Eliza herself, wishes for her to remain in Romania.
Reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s films (Maria-Victoria Dragus having coincidentally starred in The White Ribbon), Mungiu carries the film through a methodical structure that might alienate viewers to the film’s lack of subjectivity. Despite its slight attention to Eliza and her generation, the film focusses on Romeo and his desire to escape the corruption Romania has suffered since Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist leader from 1965 to 1989. Laced with irony, Romeo considers himself a morally good man despite contributing to the problems that face Romania to present date. Much of the nuance to Romeo’s character stems through Adrian Titieni’s muted but multifaceted performance. Titieni creates a sense of balance to Romeo, portraying a man whose sympathy would be more easily incurred if not for his behaviour and actions that compromise his ethics.
As a result, Mungiu delivers a troubling concept that the very act of helping a friend institutionally can lead to a political and social favouritism that privileges the few over the needs of many. It’s a dense idea that doesn’t quite flesh out its argument beyond the surface, much to the film’s overall detriment, but nevertheless feels challenging enough to remain engaging as a story. Despite many critics stating Graduation concludes mirthfully, what little optimism to be found is itself ambiguous and debatable. It’s an overall satisfying drama from Mungiu, but signs of exhaustion in his ideas are starting to show. There’s only so much bleakness any person can take from another.
15A See IFCO for details
Graduation is released 31st March 2017