REVIEW: Graduation

15 05 2017

It’s only natural for parents to wish that their children fare better than they do, but I would be genuinely curious to see how many would act with the vigor of Adrian Titieni’s Romeo in “Graduation” to ensure such a thing. Locked in a loveless marriage, trapped in a dead-end romantic affair and bored professionally, Romeo is Romania’s equivalent of a tiger father to his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus). She has the opportunity to spend her collegiate years on scholarship in the “more civilized” United Kingdom pending a passing grade on her final exams, and he will do everything in his power to ensure she escapes the mire of their native country.

Except, on the day before the test, a stranger batters Eliza on the way to school and wounds her as he attempts rape. For whatever arcane reason, the authorities simply cannot accommodate her at a later date, so Eliza must take the multi-part exam with her writing hand severely injured. Faced with the threat of his daughter’s escape route vanishing, Romeo decides to take independent measures to ensure she passes.

Romeo and his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) are no stranger to rigged systems that present themselves as fair. After all, they fled the Communist regime in Romania and returned to raise a child in a post-Soviet Bloc nation. But Eliza comes from a generation that only knows democracy, and she does not take kindly to knowing fingers are on the scale for her benefit. This divide over who sets the rules and when those rules are enforced proves a fascinating fissure to observe throughout “Graduation” as it increasingly isolates Romeo from his family and community.

Mungiu, in classic Romanian New Wave fashion, takes his time delivering the audience to such realizations. Two hours of wading through such intense moral morass is a bit much, especially given the time spent on a subplot of broken glass on Romeo’s belongings. These incidents amount to little more than a red herring, a projection of Romeo’s fretting over the precariousness of his situation. They’re a bit at odds with the studied naturalism of the film – which, for the record, feels a bit de rigeur for Mungiu by now. B /



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