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Film review: Graduation – Cristian Mungiu’s striking drama on corruption and moral decline in Romania

Depicting a father’s underhand efforts to get his daughter into a British university following her brutal rape, Graduation is a complex yet rewarding work in which viewers can easily lose themselves in a moral maze

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 May, 2017, 5:30pm

4/5 stars

The Romanian New Wave of realist films led by Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes-winning abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is now a decade old, but there hasn’t been a flood of new directors from the region of late. Mungiu, though, continues to produce assured works of cinema and his latest film, Graduation, is a striking drama that rigorously deals with themes of corruption and moral decline.

Set in Cluj, the film focuses on Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), a father and husband but failing at both. Cheating on his wife with a teacher at his daughter’s school, he is not above playing the system when it suits. His offspring Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is all set for a top British university when, shortly before her final exams, she’s sexually assaulted in broad daylight.

With his daughter understandably unable to complete her tests, Romeo calls in favours with two officials to massage his daughter’s marks. This may sound insignificant on its own, but Mungiu crafts a world where small incidents chip away at the souls of the characters.

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The opening scene sees a brick thrown through the window of Romeo’s house, and there’s a sense from writer-director Mungiu that the society he depicts is gradually deteriorating – much like Romeo’s ailing mother.

Pitched at quieter level than 4 Months, Graduation is still a hugely complex work that holds a real spell over the viewer. The further you enter into it, the more you get lost inside its moral maze, as characters’ actions leave you questioning and debating. Shot with restraint, cut for naturalism, this is a dense but ultimately rewarding film.

Graduation opens on May 18

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