Director: Cristian Mungiu
Runtime: 128 minutes
A father will seemingly stop at nothing so that his daughter can graduate with honors and go to Cambridge in Cristian Mungiu’s absorbing follow up to 2013’s Beyond the Hills.
When the movie starts an act of shocking violence fills the screen and becomes a motif of forces outside of the film’s main character’s control. A rock crashes through the first-floor window of Romeo Aldea’s apartment. Romen assesses the damage, knowing it will cost money, money he doesn’t have, so he puts a temporary fix to it. His mind is preoccupied with his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). Eliza has exams the next day and she needs to have a 9 average in order to be accepted to Cambridge. Romeo has dreams for her, and that is to get out of Romania and its crumbling society. Aside from his collapsing marriage, he doesn’t see any reason for Eliza to stay and waste her life when the world could be hers.
So far, so good. What parent wouldn’t want the best for their kids? I know mine did; coming from a small town not dissimilar to the one Romeo lives in my father pressed on that I study, go to the best college, and get out. What Romeo doesn’t anticipate — and neither does Eliza or do we — is that on her way to school, she gets assaulted by a stranger. The stranger doesn’t, thankfully, go all the way, but causes enough damage to twist Eliza’s arm so that now she has to wear a cast. The issue that now arises is that, because other students have used casts to cheat on their tests, this creates a problem for Eliza. So Romeo gets pulled into a corner where the only way out is by going the route of approaching people to “help” her pass her exams — a thing that is practically considered a criminal offense and one that could ruin his reputation and that of the other people implied.
At the same time this is happening Romeo is having problems at home. Like I mentioned, his marriage is over — his wife sulks and does little more than express a languid sense of hurt. Romeo on the other hand is carrying on with a teacher at the school where Eliza goes to. She herself has a young son, but the point is, she’s been seeing Romeo now for some time and would like to define her relationship because she’s getting older, and . , , well, she just wants something solid to hold onto.
Also, more acts of violence directed at Romeo seem to be occurring. However, Cristian Mungiu leaves these acts as ambiguous as possible. My only educated guess is that because he is a well-known doctor, there may be some resentment in those not as well off, but it seems to be framing the situation of the attempted rape on Eliza, and tension that is now befalling the Aldea’s household that is falling apart at the seams. However, because shortly after the rock through the window Eliza gets attacked, I’m inclined to believe that these events, as random as they may be, could somehow indicate something bigger. Perhaps because Romeo is pushing Eliza to do the wrong thing — cheat — that he is getting a larger punishment for this transgression.
For the most part Mungiu remains neutral. Graduation as a whole remains a neutral exercise in what is right and what is wrong. Yes, Romeo has problems, and his problems get bigger as the possibilities of getting caught through surveillance talking to the people helping him out with Eliza’s finals narrow his circle of action, but is he someone who is a bad man, who even deserves this? We don’t know. What we do know is this is a man who is stretched out to the very limit to assure a future for his daughter, and perhaps this might sound far-fetched, but never do we once doubt that what motivates him is not acting out of love for Eliza.
Graduation is still playing in theaters around the country and in IFC in New York.