Romanian director Cristian Mungiu has never been one to hide away from the complicated truth. His latest film Graduation continues in the same vein as his acclaimed Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and more recently Beyond the Hills, foraging deep into complex moral dilemmas that are just as likely to bond together friends, family and acquaintances as they are to tear them apart.
The decisions taken by Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) on behalf of his daughter, and of course for himself, weaves together an ever wider network of people, with each connection prepared to muddy the waters even further. The day before a vital final exam, Romeo’s teenage daughter Eliza (Maria Drăguş) is sexually assaulted outside of the school premises. Both mentally and physically she is left in no fit state to sit the examination the following day, but the school are only willing to make the smallest of exceptions to help her out. The upshot being that failure to maintain her high grade average would mean not graduating at all. Romeo wants his daughter to leave Romania to study and like any parent is desperate for her to have the opportunities his own childhood didn’t allow. He is a man of principle, who doesn’t play political games or dirty himself in bribes. But in order to help pass his daughter through the exam, involving himself in the web of corruption may prove to be the only option he can pursue.
It is important to note that what Romeo views as the best course of action may not be shared by his daughter and downtrodden wife. And herein lies the rub. As the local major, chief of police, local examiners and fraud investigation officers all become involved, the schisms in Romeo’s domestic life start to widen. Mungiu is an expert at digging into the ambiguous and uncomfortable realities that evolve in these situations. Romeo’s marriage is already dead in the water, and although emotions stay relatively calm at home, the resentment and unhappiness simmering underneath is almost unbearable.
This is a story told from a parent’s point of view, seen through Romeo’s eyes. He is willing to discard the principles of truth and honesty he has instilled in his daughter’s psyche if it means she can still travel abroad to study. Although Romeo is well intentioned, the dynamics of his immediate world are forever changed and it becomes a price he’s willing to pay, although the end result may not align with what he had hoped for.
In spite of the raised emotions, there is barely a voice raised in anger. There is almost a resignation to fate, an acceptance that these overbearing complications are a matter of routine. Romeo’s wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) probably exemplifies this most of all, her weary physical demeanour and speech becoming more insightful the further we step inside their marriage. Mungui shoots through car windshields, clear and broken windows, to show us the deceiving mistruths occurring through the shallow panes.
While the despair of post-communist society in Romania may or may not be the underlying target of the director, Mungui once again succeeds in drawing out the subtle compromises that define human relationships. He asks us to think about how difficult decisions are reached, even when those who stand behind them do not fully understanding why. While the overall impact may not feel as forceful as some of Mungui’s previous work, upon reflection, you may begin to question your own personal motives.