As he readies for work, Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is startled by a rock thrown through his living room window. He cleans it up, checking that his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus, "The White Ribbon") has made airline reservations, asking his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) if she needs anything. He drops his daughter off at an intersection and proceeds to the home of his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici) where he gets a call that Eliza is in the hospital after a sexual assault. As his daughter is due to sit a final exam cementing her scholarship to a prestigious British university the next day, Romeo begins to worry about her "Graduation."
In his latest, Romanian writer/director Cristian Mungiu ("4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "Beyond the Hills") charts the snowball effect of corruption. The film is utterly compelling, an 'ordinary' man trying to assure a better life for a daughter who may not want what he's offering. There's a bit of a mystery at the heart of the film, Mungiu sprinkling clues, both metaphorical and forensic, throughout.
While Eliza escaped rape, she's shaken up, her arm injured. Magda worries about her daughter's well being while Romeo frets about her exam. The next morning, he insists on speaking with a higher up at the school gate, getting Eliza in despite her rule-breaking cast. But the brilliant student is rattled, not answering the last two questions in time. She now needs a perfect score on her second exam in order to retain her scholarship. Romeo talks to his friend, Prosecutor Ivascu (Emanuel Parvu), who suggests Vice-Mayor Bulai (Petre Ciubotaru) can connect him with the exam overseer if Romeo can try to bump up Bulai for a critical organ transplant.
Mungui's film compels because he doesn't just focus on bureaucratic corruption, his protagonist's undoing a series of pedestrian events. At first, we may not even perceive Romeo's moral laxity as corruption, but his affair points out a willingness to bend rules, his treatment of Sandra an unwillingness to deal with consequences. While Magda, the film's moral compass, continually stresses the values taught to Eliza, Romeo tells his daughter 'Sometimes in life it's the result that counts.' Disillusionment induces myopia. While we may easily conclude who threw that initial rock (a second destroys Romeo's windshield), it appears Romeo has not.
What of Eliza? Does her father really even see anything but her academic achievements? He is shocked and distressed to learn from a doctor she is not a virgin, resenting her boyfriend Marius (Rares Andrici), insisting he must have witnessed her attack after obsessively watching security footage. Mungui's unraveling of Romeo's scheme not only proves it futile, but leads to an admission that wouldn't be so shocking were it not for how artfully the filmmaker has built his house of cards.
Robin gives "Graduation" a B.
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