Cristian Mungiu’s Romanian drama, about a father with a heavy investment in his daughter’s success, is long and intense — at times feeling as claustrophobic and suspenseful as a horror movie.
You might think of Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) as a helicopter parent, a father whose heavy investment in his daughter’s success seems both laudable and a little frightening. For Romeo, a doctor in a provincial Romanian city, Eliza (Maria Dragus) — his only child, in her last year of high school — represents his only basket and all the eggs inside.
Romeo clings to the faith that his thwarted ambition, his battered idealism and his dented self-esteem will all be vindicated if Eliza wins a competitive scholarship to study in England. He and his depressive wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), who lived in exile before their return to Romania after the end of Communism, are not up to leaving again. Eliza’s escape would be an antidote to her father’s disappointment with the spiritually and morally desolate place his country has become.
“Graduation,” Cristian Mungiu’s nerve-racking and humane new film, provides plenty of visual and narrative evidence in support of Romeo’s pessimism. Mungiu’s camera stalks Romeo through a drab landscape, where ugly old buildings are falling down and ugly new ones are going up, where gray and brown are the dominant colors, and where nothing quite works.
‘Graduation,’ with Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici. Written and directed by
Cristian Mungiu. 128 minutes. Rated R for some language. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.
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When Eliza is attacked — she suffers an arm injury fighting off an attempted rape — her father’s worst intuitions are confirmed. His plans are also threatened, since the trauma of the assault threatens to affect her performance on a crucial exam. She is also seeing a boy Romeo doesn’t much like. His parental anxiety slides toward panic.
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And his sense of superiority to his surroundings — the idea that he and Madga uphold values that their compatriots have long since abandoned — is challenged. In order to save Eliza’s chances, he ventures into the world of favor-trading and back-scratching that he had always disdained, turning to a high-ranking police officer (Vlad Ivanov) and a local politician (Petre Ciubotaru) in an effort to rig Eliza’s test scores.
Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Beyond the Hills”), one of the crucial figures in the post-dictatorship flowering of Romanian cinema, has a gift for infusing daily routines with an almost metaphysical sense of dread. Titieni makes us believe that nothing less than Romeo’s soul is at stake. And Dragus beautifully dramatizes the dilemma of a child who wants to be both obedient and independent. Romeo’s dreams for Eliza are rived with contradiction: He wants her to be free, but never imagined that she would want to free herself from him.
“Graduation” is long and intense, a rigorously naturalistic film that at times feels as claustrophobic and suspenseful as a horror movie.