Film Review: GRADUATION (Romania 2016) ****

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graduation.jpgA film about compromises and the implications of the parent’s role.

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writer: Cristian Mungiu
Stars: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar

Review by Gilbert Seah

A stone is thrown for no reason at the start of the film breaking the living room window of Romeo’s house, as if serving as an omen for bad things to come to this self-serving man. Romeo (Adrian Titieni) is revealed to be a doctor, an unfaithful husband and for the most part in the story intent of doing what he thinks is right for his teenage daughter, Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) by ensuring she wins a scholarship that will have her complete studies in the U.K.

Things take a turn when Elizabeth is assaulted one day before her exams. These exams are part of the ones that will guarantee her the U.K. scholarship. As a result of the trauma, she does not do well. In desperation, Romeo sees his friends high up in administration to fix her grades.

Mungiu’s camera doggedly follows Romeo around like a parasite, tracing his every move as he manipulates everyone around him. One can believe that he is doing it for his daughter, but eventually the main benefactor is himself. Romeo is not a despicable character. Mungiu entrusts human qualities in the man – qualities that everyone has him or herself. It is universally true that the goal in life of every parent is to see the child grow up to be better than him/her. So Romeo’s goals of ‘innocently’ helping his daughter get the scholarship is totally unbelievable. Though the film is a drama, it is so absorbing that it feels as suspenseful as a horror movie.

Worthy of note is the conformation scene between Romeo and his mistress Sandra. Sandra complains that all her life she has been second fiddle to his wife and family and at age 35, she needs a plan for her life. If this segment was shot in an American film, the two would be arguing and screaming at each other at the top of their voices and making wide gestures. But Mungiu shoots the scene with the the couple arguing with low voices. With Sandra’s head down, and speaking softly with reason, the confrontation becomes even more relevant as the audience sympathizes with her.

Also Romeo and his friends illegally scratch each others back. Romeo’s police officer offers the services of his friend to up Romeo’s daughter’s grade because the friend owes the officer a favour. Romeo offers to help his friend with his kidney transplant while he helps Romeo. They insist, fooling themselves and easing their conscience that the deed does good and they refuse any monetary exchange.

It is a fine line between siding with Romeo and despising him. Mungiu’s direction treads the fine line. A key scene of the film occurs when Romeo is looking after Sandra’s kid in the playground. The kid throws a stone at another because the other was doing something wrong.. The kid is admonished by Romeo in the same way life has done the same to him for doing what he thought was right. This is the point where Romeo claims his redemption.
GRADUATION is a meticulously executed intelligent film by Mungiu who won the Best Director Prize for this film at Cannes last year.



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