Cristian Mungiu’s provocative Graduation––which he shared the Best Director prize at Cannes 2016 with Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, also screening at VIFF––is as intricate as it is sharp and unsettling. Adrian Titieni is gripping as grey-haired Dr. Romeo Aldea and he dominates almost every frame of this arresting Romanian drama.
Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or back in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days continues his winning streak with Graduation, set in a small Romanian city of Cluj and fixating upon the doctor and the three women in his life; his teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus), his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici).
And while the cast is uniformly strong, it’s Romeo, the distraught and determined patriarch who tries to make right but seems doomed from the outset, that ferries us across these troubled and tempestuous waters.
Graduation opens with a stone smashing through the living room window of Romeo’s rundown Ceausescu-era apartment. This seemingly random act of vandalism anticipates the violence and upset to follow which soon immolates young Eliza. Only moments after Romeo drops her off near to her school she is grabbed and assaulted in an attempted rape. Soon after this incident Romeo, with Eliza in the passenger seat, runs over a dog in his car; another ill-met omen.
Eliza, a star pupil with a bright future, is now shaken, and unable to take her exam––with a prestigious Oxford scholarship at stake, to boot. Adding to the emotional anguish is Romeo’s disintegrating marriage, while Sandra, his single-mother lover, and teacher at Eliza’s school, may be pregnant. Could things get worse? Yes, and they will.
Elements of Michael Haneke’s work loom heavy––Dragus was in Haneke’s White Ribbon, which further underscores this idea––and even the lilting air of Abbas Kiarostami seems discernable in the enigmatical progress of the story.
Bleak, tangled, and persistent, Graduation teases at the viewer, troubling us like a loose tooth and yet gratifying us also, for all its ability and brilliance. Exceptional
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.