Graduation is a rare film because it nails everything from the opening to the end, from it’s morally abstruse social commentary to the way in which it captures the raw essence of each scene and makes them all mean something. There are few films that you come across in your life that hit you speechless and does it in such a low-key affair that the initial realization becomes all the more powerful. It’s European-esque but is more tense, relatable and engaging than the more minimalistic and abstract European art-house drama. Most of all, I fully empathize with many of the characters who find themselves caught in the socio-economic mire of ‘Romania’, which persecutes individuals because of it’s own failure and corruption.
Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation shows Romanian society in a rather bleak and colorless lens, and Romeo (the Dad) often repeats his view that the place they live in has ‘nothing’. But this nothingness is purely on the surface. Mungiu’s characters are endlessly interesting in their day-to-day affairs and experiences as they flirt on the boundaries of their seemingly tepid and peaceful social enclave. What’s cool about Graduation is that Mungiu’s film is such a powerful exposition of family, morals, fate and bureaucracy through the main subject of education. And he does so in a way that really strikes home where I come from because I really relate to how Eliza (daughter) is caught up in an emotional storm just before her exams and how her dad assumes the over-protective role who’s decision to try and ‘protect’ and ‘safeguard’ Eliza’s future (considering her traumatic state) foreshadows unimaginable chaos and conflict. Between personal troubles, an ongoing criminal investigation, double-sided lives, disjointed families and the all-encompassing fate, Mungiu’s characters are as real as ever, as he is able to draw heavy themes from simple everyday life. Maria Dragus, Andrian Titieni, Lia Bugnar and Malina Manovici were all fantastic in this film.
Cristian Mungiu’s gazing camera as Romeo takes a precarious walk through a rough side of town is wobbly and yet tenacious. The shot as Eliza and her Dad (Romeo) fight in an enclosed space is uncomfortable but also liberating. In lingering moments, Mungiu frames his shot in a way which allows us to take a step into a world not far from our own, and realize that their troubles could just have easily been ours. Those moments are impeccably framed with two characters mostly filling up most of the scenes in an array of visually different positions; To visually highlight the duality between contesting opinions, beliefs and moral systems. Even on a thematic level, Eliza’s coming-of-age, Romeo’s heaping troubles and two mothers battling a maternal crises are often beside each other and threatening, perhaps, to overwhelm Mungiu’s film into nilhilistic blackness.
Great films, to me, are films that are complex enough to provoke thought and yet grounded enough to actually see the film through it’s said themes. Great films see the film to its end. I loved every part of Graduation from it’s moral ambiguity to it’s memorable characters that strike emotional chords from all walks of life. I loved how it was about one simple thing that turned on its head and became a far more complex social piece. But most of all, I loved how Cristian Mungiu has such an acuity for how we perceive fate, and the message he can create when dealing with such an eternal and overwhelming idea. Though he leaves his character’s fate’s uncertain, fundamentally, Graduation is unlike many other films whose artistry and ambiguity is not exactly meaningful. Graduation is raw and sad and fully attuned to the cruelties of fate and bureaucratic systems. Instead of systems protecting it’s people, the tragedy comes as Mungiu’s characters bear the brunt of it’s collapse. Romanian society may have betrayed Mungiu and his characters, but he certainly has not betrayed the idea of humanity; When systems fail us , maybe all we can do, with what little influence we have, is to be a human to another.
Rating: 10/10 I LOVED it.