Year: 2017
Director(s): Cristian Mungiu
Writer(s): Cristian Mungiu
Region of Origin: Romania

Rating: R
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Digital, Color, 128 mins

Synopsis: A film about compromises and the implications of the parent’s role. (Source)

Graduation strikes a precise nerve with its devastating premise. Director Cristian Mungiu’s latest is small, but ends up with broad, sweeping implications, exploring parental influence/responsibility and how years of planning can fall apart in the blink of an eye. The contrast here pits good intentions against compromise and gradual unravelling, focusing on who we truly are in the face of preservation. In turn, Mungiu finds tension in the mundane lies we tell ourselves, and the way these fragmented truths can slowly take over when we least expect. Adrian Titieni and Maria Dragus are powerful in their respective roles, a father and daughter caught in the middle of a random act of violence and the way it changes their lives forever. Without a doubt, Mungiu is a filmmaker with an eye toward restrained chaos, pushing his characters to the brink with patient realism.

Things take place in a small Romanian town. There, a doctor named Romeo (Adrian Titieni) has built his life and his daughter’s, around the prospect that once she finishes school, she’ll leave the confines of their city and start a better life elsewhere. On the eve of her final exams, Romeo drops his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) a few blocks from campus, but she’s the subject of a failed sexual attack. Though she escapes her attacker, she’s shaken and begins to doubt being in the right mindset for her exams. For Romeo, her life depends on scoring above average marks the next day, and begins to scheme so that he can ensure she makes it out on top. Though Romeo has always been someone to prize integrity (even despite a few shady dealings), he suddenly finds himself in a psychological landslide, stopping at nothing to ensure his daughter’s success, even as his schemes to help her begin to unravel his own life.

Honing in with intimate ferocity, Mungiu offers a nearly transparent drama that plays out like a thriller. Like in reality, the most devastating aspects of the story happen through what isn’t said and done, with Mungiu’s doc-style presentation offering a fly-on-the wall perspective that offers no escape to the viewer or his characters. Focusing on relationships and how each character reacts to uncontrollable circumstance, Mungiu’s most powerful weapon is his eye for authenticity. The film is built on a series of conversational scenes, ones which Mungiu allows to unfold uninterrupted, and in real time. Through this, his performances shine and the tension from scene to scene is palpable, only amplified by the fact that things just keep getting worse for Romeo and his crumbling plans. Through it all, the story is one that picks apart the consequence of compromise, the complexity of morality in a flawed world, and a systematic society that prizes the bottom line over humanity.

On the performance front, the film’s material is bolstered by a duo of performances that hit hard. As the harried, Romeo, Adrian Titieni is the embodiment of struggle and unfortunate circumstance. Titieni stitches together a myriad of intangible ideas, making the story’s humanity shine through amidst Mungiu’s dense plotting. In essence, Titieni is the film’s anchor, taking its complexity and making it all too relatable. As his daughter Eliza, Maria Dragus matches Titieni’s intensity note for note. Dragus is very much a mirror to her co-star, but tackles everything with much more ambiguity. There are times when she’s hard to read, and adds a duality to what we think is happening.

Graduation is a film that is felt as much as it’s seen. There are very few films that shine a light on the silent, everyday struggles we all go through, resulting in a morality play that feels urgent and relevant no matter who the viewer is or where they’re coming from. This ability to capture a universal quality is what makes Mungiu’s film resonate, offering a respite from the fantasy that overpowers so many films, and highlighting the shades of grey that make up the world we all live in.