Graduation – movie review

Slow moving, intelligent and thought-provoking, Graduation is a slice-of-life piece tackles fear, honesty and morality.

Forty-nine year-old Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), a physician living in a small mountain town in Transylvania, has raised his daughter, Eliza (Maria Dragus), with the idea that once she turns 18, she will leave home to study and live abroad. His plan is close to succeeding. She has received a scholarship to study psychology in the UK, pending the results of her final exams, which should be a mere formality for such a good student. But on the day before her first written exam, an ugly incident changes everything. Now her father has to make a decision to try to ensure the future he envisaged for his daughter, but that involves compromising the principles he holds so dearly. 

Romanian writer and director Cristian Mungiu says Graduation is primarily an x-ray of the moment when you realise that most of your life is already behind you. “You have made the important decisions of your life and here you are today. Often, life at this age doesn’t look quite as you imagined when you were young. But this is it – there’s nothing much you can change now. Still, there is something you feel you can do, something that would give meaning to all the misfortunes you experienced: save your children, teach them well, help them make better choices than you did.”

Graduation is a story about principles and compromises, decisions and choices. It is not immediately apparent what is going down here, but given time the plot eats into your psyche. The tension is palpable. Given the circumstances, you are left asking what you would do if presented with similar circumstances. 

I was particularly taken by the nuanced performance of Adrian Titieni as the doctor. His heart is in the right place, but he comes to understand that try as you might, you can’t control all circumstances. He might be an honourable man, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be compromised.  This is a warts-and-all story where the outcome cannot be assured.

The setting is like bad karma that hangs over the whole piece – one look and you understand why the doctor is desperate for his daughter to seize the day and get out as quickly as she can … before it is too late. Credit must go to cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru for the striking but sombre visuals. 

Simply put, Graduation, rated MA, might not be pretty, but it definitely feels real and scores a 7½ out of 10.

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Cast: Adrian Titieni, Maria Dragus
Release Date: 8 June 2017
Rating: MA15+

Alex First

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