by George Wolf
Graduation (Bacalaureat) is a film perched on the slope of moral compromise, where people convince each other they “don’t do such things” at the very moment they are doing such things. The latest from acclaimed writer/director Christian Mungiu, it is an intimate film that slowly crafts larger observations.
Eliza (Maria Dragus) is a standout student about to graduate high school in Romania. If she passes her final exams with her usual high marks, she will earn a scholarship to further her education in England, fulfilling her father Romeo’s plan to get his daughter out of Romania where “everything is difficult.”
Difficulties do arise when Eliza is assaulted, and the attack threatens not only Eliza’s ability to concentrate on her exams, but even her attendance come test day. For Romeo (Adrian Titieni), a respected doctor in town, this is unacceptable, and soon he is exploring questionable avenues to make sure Eliza get the marks her scholarship requires.
Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) is again commenting on modern society in his native homeland, but as Romeo’s mission becomes more complicated, the film asks pointed questions about self-delusion, the limits of parental guidance, and the subtle seeds of corruption.
Employing multiple wide shots with lingering takes, Mungiu returns often to a local playground where the stationary figure of Romeo ponders his daughter’s independence, surrounded by the energetic play of young children. These scenes embody the precise, measured tone that carries the film, as it laments the state of the present while holding out faint hope that the next generation can be a force for change.
Eventually the familiar themes become a bit redundant and the film overlong, but with meticulous craftsmanship by Mungiu and stellar performances from Titieni and Dragus, Graduation remains a moving portrait of the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices.