Tag Archives: Romanian New Wave

GRADUATION

 

GRADUATION
Romania
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Runtime: 128 minutes
Language: Romanian

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.

The First Post…

…is always the most difficult. How do you begin? Welcome to my blog, hope you like what I have to say, grab a coffee, take a sip and peruse through? I don’t know. I barely even know my name at the end of a long day and it’s still Monday evening in New York. Winter seems to be thawing prematurely but as is its wont, December holdovers are all over the place. Even films that have no nominations in any award show are still going strong (I’m talking to you, Lady in the Van. I loved your wit and that thing you did with Alex Jennings playing playwright Alan Bennett, twice, as if he had an invisible twin, or the voice of his own conscience. I thought that there was room in the Best Actress category for Dame Maggie Smith but the academy, it seems, disagreed.)

the-lady-in-the-van
Dame Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van

Youth is still playing. One theater, a few showings, which tells me it will probably exit come Thursday. If the  Quad Cinema were open that is where it would go for a second run among tinier indies. However, I’m afraid this is the last NYC will see of it. Next stop: Netflix, Amazon, et. al.

In a way, all these holdovers aren’t a bad thing: many movie goers don’t want until they know a film is “Oscar Nominated” to go see it and be the judge for themselves if it deserved its accolades or not. They also want and need to be fresh in people’s minds so that cancels any significant new entry. I personally long outgrew that phase. I can’t recall when was the last time I saw a movie for awards it received. Now, its participation in certain film festivals can’t hurt–quite the contrary, the sole mention of Cannes  (in its main or tangential lineups), Venice, Locarno, SXSW, Tribeca, Sundance, Berlinale, New York Film Festival, or New Directors/New Films is more than enough to spark an interest.

Even so, I totally get it. The vast majority seeks out only what has been recognized. That’s where they measure a movie’s quality, an actor’s performance, a director’s choice in light, shadow, and camera movement (or lack thereof). And that’s perfectly fine.

For me, it goes much deeper than that. Year after year I see tiny movies that go completely unnoticed or play under the radar of “what’s hot” in arthouse theaters for months on end. Those are the pictures that I like. Those are the pictures that move me. Sometimes I will be disgusted, or left somewhat perplexed, but seeing an indie or a foreign or a documentary is akin to venturing into another man’s skin. Another time and place. Yes the story may be archetypal, or it might not possess the flair that a 300 million dollar budget would allow, but for me, it’s the journey. Seeing a story told in a smaller scale, reaching the same emotional impact a larger enterprise can give with enough retouching.

Phillippe Garrel's In the Shadow of Women
Phillippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women

January saw a couple of good releases –nothing mind-blowing–but smaller events that still carry a big punch. Both IFC and Lincoln Center played two New York Film Festival selections: Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure. Both films couldn’t be more different: the former is a story about a couple in trouble, the latter about a man who gets an offer he can ‘t refuse. While I could see both of them in one sitting (combined, both movies total  about 165 minutes), the stories proper are told with so much restraint and deadpan humor i found them somewhat heavy  to endure, even when the end result leaned towards a positive outcome. Perhaps a second view on DVD will bring the scale closer to home. That of,  course, remains to be seen. Both directors have a rather droll visual style, but exert a certain pull for the fabric that composes their stories and I enjoy that very much.

At the moment, I’m looking forward to this lull, then catching up with last week’s premiere of Aferim!  (Romania’s entry to the 88th Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture), and upcoming releases like Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Pablo Larrain’s El Club (Chile), and Atom Egoyan’s Remember, followed by the February festival Film Comment Selects which runs February17  – 24 at the Lincoln Center.