Graduation (2016)
7/10
Deeper life themes in fine film
10 February 2018
In a small Romanian town, Romeo (Adrien Titeini) is a local doctor who is hell-bent on ensuring his teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) excels in her final high-school exams in order to be accepted at a university in the U.K. He is even willing to cross legal and ethical boundaries to make this happen after Eliza faces a crisis shortly before her exams.

Director/writer Christian Mungiu seems to have a knack for courageously exposing his home country's culture of corruption and the moral dilemmas this causes for average citizens - especially when these folks are in a quandary and "taking the high road" would not likely get them what they want and need. In "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days", the story revolved around arranging an illegal abortion during the Communist era; in "Graduation" (which takes place in the current time), it involves Romeo's insistence that his only child must leave corrupt Romania in order to have a decent life and future.

"Graduation" begins quite well in introducing the audience to interesting characters and how they respond to the corruption in their midst. The middle part is even more intriguing as Romeo's moral compass goes so downhill that he is becoming what he once condemned. It is evident he's acted this way before but not at this level.

There are two key scenes in this section in which Romeo defends his actions. One involves an argument with his wife; the other with Eliza. During the dispute with his wife (played by Lia Bugnar), he argues how much she benefited from his smaller moral slips in the past even if she wouldn't have acted the same way herself. His argument is so convincing that even the viewer could agree with him in a very uncomfortable way.

The final segment does injustice to the beginning and the middle. It seems to go in various unnecessary directions and fails to continue the momentum built earlier. But "Graduation" is still a film worth seeing. It includes universal themes such as well-meaning parents over-planning their children's future plus a challenge to the belief that "the grass is always greener" somewhere else. And of course, the saying "O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive" is well played out in the narrative.
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