GRADUATION (Romania | France | Belgium/TBC/128mins)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Starring Adrien Titieni, Lia Bugnar, Maria Dragus, Maliana Manovici, Vlad Ivanov.
THE PLOT: Romeo Aleda (Adrian Titieni) is a man with what seems like a perfect family life; his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is a highly achieving high school student, his marriage seems solid and he is a well respected doctor. Underneath the surface however, Romeo’s marriage is on the brink of ending and he is having an affair with Sandra (Malina Manovici). When Eliza is attacked and may be unable to complete her finals – upon which her scholarship to a college in the UK rests – Romeo makes some difficult choices to save his family, ones that have repercussions.
THE VERDICT: Director Cristian Mungiu returns to Cannes this year with this family drama; a festival that awarded ‘Beyond the Hills’ Best Screenplay and best Actess in 2012, and Mungiu himself the Palme D’Or in 2007 ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’. This time out, Mungiu tries to follow in the footsteps of the Dardenne’s mystery solving ‘The Unknown Girl’, but the drawn out running time means the film loses momentum.
Adrian Titieni is strong in the lead role as Romeo; a man who has always been honest and turns toward shady dealings for the first time. Titieni makes Romeo slow to anger, but the character seems to be thoughtful and practical, taking everything in. Maria-Victoria Dragus is fine as Eliza, but other than cry and look scared she doesn’t have a whole lot to do and Malina Manovici is again fine as Sandra, Romeo’s woman on the side, but she is not really given a chance to explore the character fully. The rest of the cast features Lia Bugnar, Vlad Ivanov and Petre Ciubotaru.
The screenplay, written by director Cristian Mungiu, attempts to shine a light on corruption in Romania. By making Romeo a doctor noted for being honest, this says a lot about the country that he lives in – a country that he came back to in 1991, thinking he could “move mountains” – but Romeo’s descent into shady dealings – even if it is just to help his daughter pass her exams – is rather easy, which again shines a light on the state of the country. Aside from that however, the film seems unfocused; drifting from scene to scene, with no character ever seeming that bothered about the big emotional stuff, making the breakdown of a marriage on screen one of the most amicable ever seen. As well as this, there are questions raised that are never answered, and plotholes abound.
As director, Mungiu makes the central performance strong, for the most part, but this then leaves the rest of the cast out in the cold. The choice to have emotionless scenes where drama and passion could have made for a more engaging film is a strange one, as is the choice to have no strong pacing in the film, which leaves it dragging its heels for the most part. As is to be expected, there are no clear answers here, but a stronger edit could have made for a more compelling film.
In all, Graduation is a film that feels familiar and predictable at times, and struggles to keep audience attention as it meanders through an emotionless plot. Adrian Titieni is strong as Romeo, but the rest of the cast struggle with the little they are given to do, and the message about the state of Romania’s corruption is made obvious from the start, and repeatedly hammering the message home just drains it of any power.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Graduation
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    You have to wonder what goes through the Cannes jury’s minds sometimes. Romanian director Cristian Mungiu shared the Best Director prize last year for Graduation with Olivier Assayas and his film Personal Shopper. It’s telling that neither of them really deserved it.

    Romeo (Adrian Titieni) is a harried doctor in a small provincial town who walks a questionable line on what’s right and wrong. His daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is finishing school and intends to move to the UK to take up a scholarship. In order to do so, she has to pass a battery of exams. That’s all cast into doubt when Eliza is sexually assaulted and becomes too traumatised to get through the exam with full concentration. Romeo wants to secure the best future for his daughter. This means negotiating with the police to find a suspect, any usual suspect, as well as trying to push teachers to get Eliza past the finish mark. Romeo is so concerned with his daughter’s future, that he neglects his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar)… and mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici) too. A father should want the best for his child, but at what cost?

    Anybody who saw Mungiu’s harrowing earlier film 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days is unlikely to forget it in a hurry. That sadly cannot be said of Graduation. It’s a rather dour, dull film with a morally complex conundrum at its heart. Mungiu seems unable to grasp the essence of his script, the idea of a father-daughter relationship built on trust and mutual respect. That’s what the film should aspire to. It doesn’t work though, because the performances aren’t credible enough to sell the emotion of the situation. There’s also a certain detachment running through the film, which is partly down to the static cameras and the narrative distance between the characters.

    A working title for the film was ‘Recycling Feelings’. The characters feel recycled themselves, to the point where they start to lose their individuality. They don’t get the narrative thrust they so clearly deserve and the actors can’t do much more than what’s on the page. A film with a plot involving a sexual assault on a young woman should have a sense of urgency. However, that incident feels explained away by Mungiu, leaving a bad taste and the audience in the dark as much as the characters. Graduation isn’t a bad film per se – it’s just not a particularly good one. Mungiu is trying to say something about the corrupt nature of his country and its Communist past. He seems to have lost the focus that was so present in his earlier film. **