Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Romeo Aldea, a physician living in a small mountain town in Transylvania, has raised his daughter Eliza with the idea that once she turns 18, she will leave to study and live abroad. His plan is close to succeeding. Eliza has won a scholarship to study psychology in the UK. She just has to pass her final exams – a formality for such a good student. On the day before her first written exam, Eliza is assaulted in an attack that could jeopardize her entire future. Now Romeo has to make a decision. There are ways of solving the situation, but none of them using the principles he, as a father, has taught his daughter.
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★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
Probably deserving of either Best Actor or Best Screenplay; In Comp is just ridiculously strong this year.
★★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
Our final flight home film of the holiday. Both Lise and I noticed Graduation when it made it’s debut at Cannes, but despite all my sweeties efforts, we just couldn’t fit it in to a sane timeslot ( 9am the next day after the annual LB/TIFF meetup can’t be considered sane. )
Although not in all, especially if you look at the entire population of the planet, to be young is to have a sense of righteous optimism. The world is yours to change, and you can be true in your quest. I grew up in the 60’s, although too young to be part of the youth movement back then. The old, in the view of these youth, had compromised. The establishment values their comfort and money above all else, and no longer wants to change the world. The old look upon the young and think about how they thought that way back then .. how they would change the world … and then things gradually changed. Things changed because of familial responsibilities, things changed because of being worn down, things changed because of the want of a better lot for your offspring, and in some cases things changed because greed and selfishness were too powerful to resist, and too easy a road to take. The old look down upon the young as being naïve and in some cases ungrateful, but, there is always that nagging doubt about the path taken.
Many from the West, including me, simply assume systematic corruption in a former Eastern Bloc in the older generation is simply entrenched. Graduation shines a misty light on the subject. Our protagonist, a successful MD, Romeo, played with incredible skill by Adrian Titieni, keeps his motivations elusive. He enjoys his place, he strives for something better for his daughter, who is about to write her incredibly important high school graduation exams, but at the same time we see his dissatisfaction with his life, and hints of how he and his wife returned to Romania to change their country … so long ago.
Writer / Director Cristian Mungiu does a brilliant job of casting light, and casting doubt, about the seeds of corruption. While my feeling going into the film was ‘that’s simply how things are done over there’, at the end I wasn’t so sure. If someone in my past did me a favour without any strings attached, and then they come to me years later because they have a real need that I can help with … a need that I’m in a position to help with … if desperate, should they not ask? If I see their situation, should I not help? A few years ago I saw a TED talk where a somewhat known and respected Canadian spoke about our healthcare system. She needed a hip replacement … one of the longest waiting list operations in Canada. Her primary physician told her it could be ‘up to six months’. He also hinted that if she volunteered at the hospital, and on her next appointment with the specialist she wore her hospital ID badge, it might help. Indeed it did. She gamed the system. In Canada, not Romania.
Many hippies from the sixties became stockbrokers. Where is the line between a genuine, honest, favour and graft? Between righteousness and reality? It’s murky.
★★★★★ review by Milez Das on Letterboxd
Romeo is a father who wants her daughter Eliza out of the country as soon as possible and get the best education and live freely. Everything is going perfect, Eliza has even got two scholarships lined up and only thing remaining is her to score a 9 pointer in the local examination. But on the day of school Eliza is assaulted and everything that was supposed to smoothly strangles into an unexpected virtue.
The movie focuses on the role of a parent, on how much Romeo can go. We also see the situation of the country and its stands on assaults on women. Many times it is mentioned like a daily thing for the people. You can even see how no one noticed or ignored the assault that was happening to Eliza. There are conversations where people say casually it would have much worse or it just happens. It was just baffling to watch it. Even recently on New Years a girl was assaulted in Bangalore much like Eliza, at first the authorities dismissed the girl, when found out on footage we see people just walking by noticing it. Where is the humanity gone? And even in 21st Century why is this even happening? And why women still have to fight for their rights?
Let me focus on the movie first. As Eliza is still having difficulties to focus and having important exam right away, Romeo tries to influence her grade by talking to the right people. But as an hard working student and living her life in honesty Eliza finds it difficult to accept what her father is offering and influencing.
The relationship between Eliza and Romeo slides even down when she finds out about his affair with an ex patient of his.
What we really see in Graduation is how a parent who has struggled to become what he or she has with a country that isn't changing much, has not really a safety for women, assaults are casual discussion and 'It Happens' sentence which hurts the most. It is a basic thinking of a parent to do whatever is necessary for his child. We see Romeo trying to go over and beyond for Eliza, you can become angry with him when he tries to push her to give the exam after her assault.
We also see Eliza trying little to breakaway from her fathers decision, she starts to doubt weather she wants to leave. Yet we can still say she wants to go, she is just trying to figure it out herself.
The brilliance that depicts the movie is the screenplay, which gradually moves forward without creating any forced or over ambitious or even getting provoked. Cristian Mungiu has brilliantly showed the world he lives in as it is. He shows the naturalism of each situation. The breaking point of Eliza, her anger towards her father, even though she understands but wants to rebel somehow.
The movie never provokes you to be angry at someones, it just shows you how deprived we have become as a society. If you have loved Cristian Mungiu's brilliant masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days you will surely love this. You will see the style, the tension, the reality Cristian Mungiu creates.
Graduation is about a parent trying to graduate in life by making his daughter become something more than he his even better. It is about the struggle and compromise, the implications one do. It is brilliant in every way. It will make you have goosebumps at points. Cristian Mungiu even tries to have a blinker of hope from today's youth from his country. He wants them to stay and make the difference and one day he might show what they have changed rather than scaring away the world from Romania.
★★★★½ review by Victor Morton on Letterboxd
GRADUATION (Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2017) 9 R
This is what a Structure of Sin looks like.
First viewing I was expecting a story of moral decline spinning out of control, a la A SIMPLE PLAN, but that's incorrect. That was the story of a good man who did a bad thing. GRADUATION is the portrait of a society where nobody can do the right thing because nobody ever does the right thing.
Practically the first thing we see is a rock being through a window, and the victim, protagonist Romeo, calls a repairman but not very much weight is put on it though he "kinda" "knows" who it was. Later, somebody messes with his windshield wipers and it rolls off him. Later still, a rock hits his car window. None of these rhymed crimes is ever solved, largely because ... it's the environment, to which everybody has adapted himself, because it's human nature to adapt to whatever surrounds you. Every relationship in 2016 Romania is either transactional or immediately assumed to be so. And safely assumed, because it usually is. Corruption, the assumption of it, the pragmatic acceptance of it as "how stuff gets done" — they all pervade every conversation. Even the police offhandedly (the key point ... Mungiu underlines very little) refer to learning about crimes from tipsters who bribe ambulance drivers.
Even as the film's central narrative event happens (the assault on Romeo's daughter on the eve of her baccalaureate exams), we see Romeo as an adulterer (later, we learn, with his wife's "don't ask, don't tell" semi-connivance). We very promptly learn after the assault, even before the narrative implications have really been set up, that he and "Vlad Ivanov" had bribed their way out of the military draft and thus "owe" someone re a liver transplant. Romeo is a doctor. GRADUATION is not the story of a good man corrupted, but of a corrupt man trying to do "good" (when it serves him and his) because society runs on corruption.
It's well rationalized mind you, and not just on pragmatic grounds. "People should help one another" (who disagrees with that?). "Things can only work out if there's trust" ("trust" is bad?). Romeo's wife has religious icons in her bedroom and voices reservations about his test-rigging plans. But she is not merely ineffectual but the object of a withering criticism by Romeo. The husband goes beyond Nietzsche's Zarathustra, who contentedly walked past the religious old man, muttering only to himself "doesn't he know God is dead." Instead, Romeo directly notes her complicity, her knowledge, and in some cases her cooperation in everything he had done to get where he was. He's not wrong.
And the next generation has learned well, despite the "hopeful" flag-draped last shot. At a moment of medical crisis, Romeo's daughter knows she can find him — at his mistress's pad. Nor does she act surprised when her father tells her how to mark her test so it'll get the maximum grade she needs*. She knows how the game of Romanian Life is played. And in a late scene, the son of Romeo's mistress throws rocks (yes, throws parallel rocks) at a couple of other kids at a playground. Reason? Their parents had picked them up to climb onto a crossing bridge that could only have one child on it at a time, effectively "skipping the line." Unjustly. And injustice rationalizes sin.
The thing that struck me most about Mungiu's direction of this scenario is his sharply critical use of egalitarian framing. Yes, Sonny, there's lots of shots of the camera following people from close and/or behind, which emphasizes subjectivity and personal movement through the world one is negotiating. But the exceptions stand out. At numerous moments, Mungiu frames two people in static medium shots from the side, the composition finely balanced with one person on the left and the other on the right. This is as close as cinema allows to the objective third-person POV common in the 19th century social novel, a form I instinctively compared GRADUATION to at the New York Film Festival last year. Whenever such a composition occurs, what is being discussed is some form of corruption, backscratching, corner-cutting. What is being said is the ugly objective truth that the gods see but humans rationalize when they're framed in other shots.
* Analogous case about children's knowledge: As a boy of about 9, my grandfather was taking me to see a soccer game involving Rangers, the Protestant team in Glasgow. I pulled out to wear for warmth my school scarf, the only one I had, and my mother said not to wear it. She said it was green and people might think it was for Celtic, Glasgow's Catholic team and Rangers' rivals. I protested that it was an unmistakably different shade of green, bottle green rather than Celtic's kelly green, and trimmed in dark gold rather than Celtic's orange-yellow and white. No matter. I told that anecdote at a grad-school seminar for a paper on sectarianism, producing much mirth when I noted that this was history's first recorded case of a mother telling her son not to wear a scarf outside. But after the laughter had died down, a fellow student said, "what I find interesting is that even at age 9, you argued the point on whether it looked like the wrong team's scarf. BUT YOU KNEW that you couldn't wear it if there was a risk people would mistake it."
★★★★½ review by CJ Probst on Letterboxd
Most of you reading this will not be familiar with the Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, luckily I am here to tell you… you should be. Though with only a few titles under his belt, his last two; 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills both knocked me out to the point where he instantaneously become one of those few directors of whom, when they have a picture coming out, they have my full attention. Both were critiquing his home nation, one on the hopelessness for young women in need of abortions and the other on an even more archaic and insane religious mindset, Graduation continues in this tradition, showing that in
Mungiu’s opinion, Romania still has room for improvements.
I’m excited to say that I really loved this film and this type is the reason I watch as many as I do from all over the world, it is to track down gems like this. No special effects, no glitz and glamour, just good, solid story telling executed by a modern master of the craft. Don’t expect a polished and hyper edited product like you are used to from your local multiplex, this is minimalist film making with long takes and the use of hand held filming in a lot of situations. Removing all of these bells and whistles you may be used to also removes another one of the filters of reality between you and the screen, allowing you to fully emerge into the dense story and let these characters come to life in a hyper realistic way. Stylistically it looks like something the Dardennes brothers would make but with bleak, stiflingly oppressive bureaucratic themes and the heart-wrenching interpersonal family dynamics of an Asghar Farhadi film.
This is going to sound odd but the way this very somber story progresses felt like an episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm except without absolutely any humor of any kind. That show is cleverly written in a schematic format wherein every day and each episode is the next worst day of Larry’s life. It is elaborately constructed so that throughout the episode all of the events and characters are interconnected and overlap with each other and inevitably fold in on themselves right into Larry’s lab by the end. So the story goes for Romeo, the protagonist of Graduation. He is a middle-aged doctor and is undergoing the most stressful point in his life. Every new scenes adds an additional problem for him and the tension is constantly being ratcheted up as the suspense mounts; he is having an affair, his mother is ill, his dauther assaulted etc etc etc. In short, he is in way over his head.
Graduation takes a look at the hypocrisy of the patriarchal dominated Romanian government through our central character's existence within it. Everything is a constant bureaucratic juggling act, a never ending exchange of favors that pass from hand to hand like an unwanted chain letter. This corruption has infiltrated all branches of the government from the medical, criminal justice and the educational. For instance one might make sure someone else’s name get bumped up an organ recipient list if in turn their child gets accepted to a good school and so on and so forth. The system is constantly being exploited and this film questions the murky ethics involved in such interactions. Thematically the most important ethical question this film will make you think about is whether in raising your children to be honest and upstanding citizens, wanting what’s best for them and to give them the best possible future, would you be willing to bend some of those rules yourself to ensure all of that. This is a film that explores action and reaction as wells as consequences both deserved and undeserved. It examines where we look to place blame in order to find answers and at point we need to just all take responsibility for the inevitable outcome of our own lives. This is gripping storytelling at its most undiluted and effective. Finally.
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