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With: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici, Vlad Ivanov
Written by: Cristian Mungiu
Directed by: Cristian Mungiu
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Language: Romanian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 128
Date: 04/21/2017

Graduation (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cristian Mungiu was one of a handful of Romanian directors that made a splash here in the U.S. a decade or so ago, leading myself and others to declare a kind of "Romanian New Wave" in cinema. But though Mungiu's new Graduation probably won't make the same kind of impact that his 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) made, it continues the style and themes that made that one so interesting.

Graduation tells the story of a doctor, Romeo (Adrian Titieni), who is focused on his teen daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus); she must pass her college entrance exams with a high enough score to earn a scholarship so that she can leave their small town. Unfortunately, the day before a test, she is attacked.

The incident leaves her with a broken arm, and -- understandably -- a broken spirit. Romeo insists that she take the test anyway; her future is at stake. He finds he must call in all kinds of favors from town officials to help raise her score. Trouble arises when his mistress announces that she's pregnant and also when one town official -- in the hospital and in need of a liver transplant, is being investigated for corruption.

As with his earlier film, Mungiu seems fascinated by the back-door deals that get things done when bureaucracy fails, things performed out of kindness, out of the anticipation for future return favors, or purely for money. But he's also a maker of mysteries, and throughout Graduation he continues to tackle the mystery of Eliza's attacker, as well as introducing an unknown person or persons who keeps messing with Romeo's apartment windows and car windshield.

Mungiu's camera frequently frames two people talking, mostly face-to-face, and the conversations are fascinating, lyrical, building in tension. Other shots are traveling shots, and they, too, usually manage to build a kind of tension. It's a slow-building film, more interested in occupying a place and time rather than spelling it out for an audience, but it's prickly and tense, and, in its way, quite powerful.

Graduation has been given the Criterion Blu-ray treatment, and the transfer is typically striking, clear and fine, although the palette is a bit muted (it looks more digital than film); audio is excellent. Extras include a 30-minute interview with director Mungiu, eight minutes of deleted scenes, the Cannes Film Festival press conference (41 minutes), and a trailer. My colleague, film critic Bilge Ebiri, provides the liner notes essay.

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