Ethical questions are put into sharp focus in director Cristian Mungiu’s superior Romanian film, “Graduation,” which explores the way beneficial trade-offs are made in an atmosphere in which favors are expected to get favors in return. Shown at the 2016 New York Film Festival, “Graduation” is now in commercial release.
The troublesome issues are raised when Dr. Romeo Aldea, played smoothly by Adrian Titieni, desperately wants his daughter to pass her crucial high school exam so that she can take advantage of a scholarship in Britain. He also feels it important to get her out of Romania in order to have a better life.
His daughter, Eliza, played with teenage cool by Maria Dragus, fights off an intended rape attack near her school the day before the exam. Meanwhile, amidst his concern for her, Dr. Aldea sets out to guarantee that she indeed passes.
He gets himself into a jam after he makes a bargain involving elevating a government official on the list for a liver transplant in exchange for another official with influence to put on pressure to be sure that Eliza passes.
There will be serious, career threatening and potentially criminal complications for Dr. Aldea, and Eliza, upon learning what her father has done, is herself faced with an ethical issue. She is not looking for help. She doesn’t even want especially to go to England.
The film’s strength is how it meticulously delves in low-key fashion into various aspects of life—what it is like at home for Eliza, the atmosphere at the hospital where the doctor practices, the kind of wheeling and dealing that occurs, the infighting triggered by the circumstances and the differences between generations—all within the realm of life in Romania.
We also see the betrayal by Dr. Aldea of his wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), on whom he is cheating with his mistress, Sandra (Malina Manovici), who is coming to a crisis of her own as a result of her being held in limbo. The doctor’s wife decides she wants no more of the marriage, a sad scene, and his confrontation with his mistress is also sad.
The relations with his daughter are strained by her realization that he has a mistress. There enough angst to go around for all.
There’s also a side issue of corruption with respect to the daughter’s boyfriend, who doesn’t have to worry about studies because of his value to a school team. Sound familiar? Not only in Romania.
This engrossing film delves deeply into the issues explored, and it is made especially interesting as a result of the consistently strong acting. A Sundance Selects/IFC Films release. Reviewed April 6, 2017.