Superb Graduation shows Romanians trying to do the right thing

Winner of last year’s director prize at Cannes delivers a superb film about a society riddled with corruption

GRADUATION (Cristian Mungiu). 128 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (June 2). See listing. Rating: NNNNN

Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation opens in Toronto a little more than a year after winning the best director prize at Cannes. It’s lost none of its despairing power.

Four years after the allegorical Beyond The Hills, writer/director Mungiu returns to the kitchen-sink pragmatism of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days to take the pulse of contemporary Romania. He finds a nation riddled with corruption and a generation no longer trying to fix things, the revolution of the 90s having fizzled out into a sort of exhausted acceptance of the status quo of bribery and favours.

Romeo (Adrian Titieni) is a middle-aged doctor who has, we’re told, an impeccable reputation. He dotes on his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus), who’s taking her final exams to qualify for a Cambridge scholarship. When Eliza is attacked on her way to class, Romeo worries that the trauma will threaten her academic performance – motivating him to reach out to guarantee she receives the high marks he knows she would have earned.

This requires a series of favours from a number of officials, which will lead to further obligations – and no guarantee of success. Like his countryman Corneliu Porumboiu’s similarly efficient Police, Adjective, Mungiu uses one man’s attempts to work the system to investigate the workings of the system itself. 

But where Porumboiu’s narrative followed a clear moral arc, this is about a father’s efforts to protect his child, which is both murkier and more relatable: what parent wouldn’t do the same? Indeed, everyone in Graduation wants to do what’s right it’s just that no two people define “what’s right” the same way. 

And as Mungiu burrows deeper and deeper into Romeo’s world, we see exactly how things got that way, and what little hope there is for anyone’s plans to play out as intended.

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