Overall: A father processes an untimely attack on his daughter; Les Films du Fleuve/Mobra Films/Romanian Film Board; 127 Minutes.
Hope: Whereas it is common for Romanian New Wave films to cynically chastise the nation’s politics and government – Director Christian Mungiu’s earlier 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, for example, criticizes the difficulty of receiving an abortion under the iron rule of the state – Graduation seems to approach the future of the country with a bit of hope, electing optimism over despair or uncertainty. The film discusses hope in terms of the country’s youth, following the patriarch of a family, Romeo (Adrian Titani), a doctor who has devoted the past 18 years of his life attempting to prepare his daughter for university in UK away from their native Romania.
The situation changes drastically after she is assaulted in front of her school in broad daylight, injured both physically and mentally, in the wake of the final exams that would determine her acceptance. Romeo is forced to think about his parenting plan and method. In pampering Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) and preparing her for college in another country, has done his job in preparing her for the real world? Family dynamics are upset as secrets spill, decisions are made, and individuality is fought for.
Moral Uncertainty: Mungiu creates a corrupt black market community founded on personal favors. Unable to sustain themselves within an unfit society, the characters are forced to manipulate their position in order to find some semblance of happiness. A customs officer needs a liver, the father needs somebody to help his now-handicapped daughter cheat. A necessary but illegal transaction is made, forging fragile friendships and muddying morality in the process.
Graduation upholds the viscera of past New Wave films. Its characters are all three dimensional, complex, and well crafted, each exhibiting flaws while remaining sympathetic. Romeo invokes a calm but confident emotional armor, hardly ever raising his voice or blowing up, but rather, calmly and logistically judging each new event. Though well regarded in the community, he hides a somewhat despicable affair with a young schoolteacher. He further condones cheating so that his daughter can leave and not make his mistake of staying in the hope that Romania is reparable. His wife Magda, portrayed by Lia Bugnar, is bitter and fragile. She forces him to sleep on the couch. Both parents represent a different ideal for their daughter, who finds herself trapped gravitationally by their polarization but unable to speak out, as one fights for her future and the other fights to maintain her character. Graduation is an accessibly intelligent foray into the means by which these characters pursue mutually-exclusive but equally necessary ends when the question of right and wrong, though feverishly pursued, seems to yield no resolute solution.
Overall: Graduation is another great turn from Christian Mungiu, operating as both family drama and social commentary.
Featured Image: Mobra Films