Like a slightly less grim Michael Haneke film, Romanian drama Graduation is a story of moral crisis told in a raw and understated manner.
The film centres around 50-something surgeon Romeo (Adrian Titieni) who, despite his prestigious career, lives in a grim-looking housing estate in Transylvania with his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) – from whom he sleeps separately – and his teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). The family is thrown into turmoil when Eliza is assaulted, an act not only despicable in itself but one that threatens to ruin her life-long dream of studying at an overseas university. Romeo becomes obsessed with finding the culprit and with ensuring that the attack doesn’t ruin Eliza’s academic future. Increasingly, he starts to betray his honest and decent nature to guarantee her success in exams.
This film touches on some potent themes such as the decent man forced to compromise his values and the uncertain social and political state of contemporary Romania. It depicts Romanian institutions such as schools, libraries and police stations as cluttered and chaotic as if the entire country is undergoing a confusing transition. The dialogue follows suit consisting of erratic whispered and muttered conversations that are constantly interrupted by phone calls and never seem to come to any conclusion. This may well capture what director Cristian Mungiu wanted to say about modern Romania but as cinema it becomes a little repetitive.
Also, at just over two hours the film is too long and feels like several episodes of an admittedly high quality but downbeat TV drama welded together.
For the most part, though, the film’s naturalistic tone, convincing performances and believable settings draw us into the characters’ world. Also, like Michael Haneke, Mungiu convincingly creates a pervasive and oppressive sense of threat one that occasionally manifests as a rock hurled through Romeo’s car window by an unseen attacker.
Graduation impresses on a number of levels but in the end isn’t quite the sum of its parts.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2
Director(s): Cristian Mungiu.
Release date: 8th June 2017.
Running time: 128 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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