Graduation, a Romanian film directed, produced, and written by Cristian Mungiu, grapples with ethical dilemmas, heartbreaks, and the pitfalls of cyclical corruption. Set in a small city in Romania, Graduation depicts a series of events that unfold after Eliza (Maria Drăguș), the daughter of Romeo Aleda (Adrian Titieni), is sexually assaulted outside of her school. This attack traumatizes her and compromises her abilities to score well on her final exams, which determine whether she will be given a scholarship to pursue a higher education in the United Kingdom.
After the first of her three final exams, Eliza admits to Romeo that she had not performed at the level she needed to in order to qualify for the scholarship, paralyzing Romeo with the fear that his daughter would forever be trapped in the caustic and corrupt environment of her childhood. This emboldens him to take matters into his own hands. Through some tactful networking, Romeo is able to arrange for Eliza’s exam to be fraudulently graded, ultimately provoking the question of whether it is morally permissible for someone to break the rules under adverse circumstances.
The build to the climax of the plot is not necessarily steep, but the pace of the film is such that each lull of action is met by an artfully timed burst of energy. The progression of the plot strings viewers along, allowing them to simmer in anticipation of the director’s next move. By the last ten minutes of the film, it is still unclear if Eliza has performed adequately on her last exam, though it is subtly hinted at that she has failed. Because of this, when the film reaches a content and optimistic conclusion, it feels less like a cheesy crowd pleaser and more like a happy surprise.
Graduation successfully demonstrates the unique relationships between each focal character. Drăguș and Titieni adroitly demonstrate the evolution of a father-daughter relationship through strife as Eliza transitions into adulthood. The way Titeni’s character confronts the idea that his daughter does not care about her future as much as he does is both heart wrenching and refreshing. Yet ultimately, despite the tension throughout the conflict, the paternal love that Romeo has for Eliza is so heartwarmingly dear. It is clear that Eliza’s love for him is just as great, which makes Drăguș’s performance all the more impressive.
Mungiu also skillfully incorporates a conflict with a love interest outside of Romeo’s marriage without regressing to any stale banalities. Romeo had encountered Sandra in a time of his life that was bereft of romance. He and his wife had slowly grown to resent each other and were only remaining together to protect the stability of their daughter’s environment. Their estranged relationship is dismally ordinary and is performed with expert tact. The tragedy of their relationship lies in the fact that nothing that the audience is aware of drove the two apart, but the performances of two actors are able to pointedly establish why the marriage is falling apart. Sandra desperately clings to Romeo and hopes that he will finally settle on her and bring stability to the life of her own son, but Romeo does not need her the way she needs him. He looks to her for intimacy and excitement but does not see her as an important aspect of his life. Actress Manovici beautifully depicts the frustration her character must stifle while she desperately wishes for Romeo to love and prioritize her.
A remarkable attention to detail is exhibited in the film. The sets were prepensely arranged and decorated in order to create scenes that were not just fitting of the plot line, but telling of the characters deeper idiosyncrasies and relevant to the themes presented in the movie. The deliberate choice of colors and varied, complex usage of space dramatically enhances the entirety of the film. Mungiu incorporated contrasting hues of blue and orange in almost every scene of the film, which was both visually engaging and instrumental in emphasizing particular characters and scenes. Furthermore, the arrangement of the soundtrack is very compelling in that it is entirely composed of music that the characters choose to play throughout the film, which even further adds to the complexity of each individual.