Review: ‘Graduation,’ a film by Cristian Mungiu

by Andrew Parker

Graduation, the latest film from award winning Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, won’t win over people who like their film’s to have easily likable main characters, but for anyone willing to follow along it’s a stunning look at generational clashes, trauma, and corruption all via the same restrained story.

Eliza Aldea (Maria-Victoria Dragus) has been accepted to a prestigious university in the UK following her high school graduation, but the results of a national standardized test will determine if she’ll be eligible for the scholarship needed to attend. The day before she’s due to write the exam, she’s beaten and sexually assaulted by an escaped convict. Her father, Romeo (Adrian Titieni), worries about her chances if she doesn’t take the test immediately, and more or less forces Eliza to take it. After a poor performance on the first part of the test, Romeo, a doctor, begins to do favours for some unsavoury types in a bid to rig the test results if Eliza can’t perform to her usually sharp capacity.

Mungiu (Beyond the Hills, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) doesn’t mince his words with Graduation, a well drawn, but bitter look at the pressures placed on children by their parents, especially those with parents who want to see their children avoid making the same poor life choices they did. While there are grains of pitiful truth to some of the things Romeo says, he’s a thoroughly unlikable character who also cheats on his wife. Mungiu closely follows Romeo and barely touches on the lives of everyone else. It’s a focused movie on a self-obsessed human being who doesn’t recognize their own vanity.

There’s a lot going on in Graduation, and the film continually finds new wrinkles and escalations to take the story in different directions. We know early on that this probably won’t end well for somebody, but the enthralling question is whether or not any of the characters learn from the experience instead of crushing under the weight of expectation.

Graduation opens on Friday, June 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Check out the trailer for Graduation:

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