Written and Directed by Cristian Mungio.
Starring Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici, and Vlad Ivanov.
A film about compromises and the implications of the parent’s role.
Immediately jumping out at the viewer is the fact that Graduation (from Romanian writer and director Cristian Mungio, who has also crafted well-received works such as Tales From the Golden Age and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) doesn’t really follow around its unfortunate rape victim Eliza (who is not only on the verge of graduating high school, but is undergoing a series of final exams that will greatly affect her future), choosing instead to focus on how her father Romeo handles the terrible situation and pending consequences.
To say that Romeo makes every incorrect decision possible wouldn’t necessarily be false, but he is behaving irrationally and willing to bend the rules for the sake of getting his daughter out of Romania to utilize her potential scholarship for studying psychology over in England. And considering that Graduation begins with a mysterious wanderer chucking a brick through his humble abode (which, keep in mind, is just minutes before a completely unrelated incident seeing his daughter physically and sexually assaulted), the reasoning is clear from the beginning. That’s not even accounting for the sadly impoverished conditions of the country and multiple political issues that the movie surprisingly chooses not to dive into and beat you over the head with. One doesn’t need to open up a textbook or head over to Google to gain knowledge that Romania is not exactly the greatest country to live.
Before moving on, it’s also worth mentioning that the direction of the film doesn’t even attempt to showcase rape for gratuitous shock value. The disturbing action is completely kept off-screen which subsequently heightens the drama in other aspects of the story. Furthermore, Graduation isn’t necessarily about rape, it’s a narrative depicting how an extreme scenario can cause a loving guardian to go to extreme measures to secure his carefully laid out plans. However, in doing so, his own life (complete with a secret affair unknown to his wife he has seemingly grown distant to for unknown reasons) will unravel, as he slowly begins throwing away the moral code he uses and raised his intelligent and courageous daughter by.
With all that said, character interaction is without a doubt the greatest strength of Graduation. Starting with the obvious, Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus share a great father-daughter bond together; they may not understand each other but are always able to convey that they care about one another. Furthermore, looking after one another as if Romania is collectively one big family is a larger, sweeter theme the storytelling plays with, as characters constantly choose to help Romeo fix the exam grades (due to a hand cast and severe emotional trauma, getting through them for Eliza has become an unfair challenge) for little to nothing in return. The country may have its rotten apple citizens, but its heart wishes to see the brightest souls have an equally bright future.
The script and direction are also skillfully crafted and on point, allowing several deliberately long scenes of dialogue to play out, adding a welcome amount of definition to each character, including the supporting players. Naturally, the most intimate and gripping exchanges come between Romeo and Eliza, as tension continues to build over the fallout from the tragic incident, and over her disapproved boyfriend. Graduation is assuredly a slow burn that revels in subtlety and true to life human interaction, but it builds to a fitting ending that both emotionally resonates and feels slightly predictable.
Aside from minor predictability, my only other gripe is that not much of the ongoing issues of his failing marriage and adultery are explained, which would be fine if Romeo simply seemed the type to cheat on his spouse, but he doesn’t. At one point he exclaims to his wife “when did we become such enemies”, to which mentally I said to myself “I would like to know too, please”. However, it’s not a dealbreaker because the character work elsewhere is incredibly strong and layered. Watching one man’s downward spiral into the wrong things trying to do something well is an intense and entertaining watch. Graduation also manages to emphatically make a powerful political statement by not bringing up politics at all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★