Graduation

Cristian Mungui’s fifth film, Graduation, concerns the relationship between a man, his daughter, the state and the fretwork of petty corruption that knits them together. Romeo Aldea (played by Adrian Titieni) is a forty-something year old doctor living in a small Romanian town with his partner and their 18-year-old daughter, Eliza. Eliza has gained a place to read psychology at the University of Cambridge; she needs 90% in her final exams to be able to go. A violent assault threatens her ability to sit the exam; her father attempts to manipulate the results, and becomes embroiled in an increasingly claustrophobic nightmare.

In the police precinct, the sketch artist hears that Romeo is a doctor: “Really? Could he maybe put in a word for my godfather?” The police chief explains to Romeo: “Remember Bulai? He got us out of military service, at 18.” Intervening to fast-track the older man’s liver transplant is recast is characterised by the police chief as ‘helping’, Bulai being a man who has always been “helpful and kind”. This corruption apparently stems from an excess of kindness, and happens at an intimate register; Romeo loves his daughter, yet a superfluity of his concern threatens to overwhelm her.

Romeo appears in every scene, creating an uncomfortable sense of continual presence. He's got his fingers in every pie is how the English describe someone who is excessively influential, expressing something of how corrupt systems register as physical proximity, the antithesis to the privacy afforded to subjects in supposedly more honest societies. In the film, the camera also stays close and affords the viewer something like a child’s eye view; the camera sits in the back of the car alongside Eliza, it waits in corridors and stands in the middle of the living room in the family’s tidy and green-tinted flat. The takes are long and few, and the film has no score but that music that appears in the scene: an intensely realist drama, the film lets its plot unfold into as it means to, absent of editorialising or prophetelizing.

The film asks questions of social transcendence: how the suggestion of it might be conjured through a university place, a younger girlfriend, a man with a motorbike or your child’s own dizzying success. Ultimately, it also demonstrates that regardless of an individual’s intention, everyone around is implicated in the systems that govern, well or ill, the outcomes of our lives – which is true no matter where you happen to live. ◉

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