Graduation – Review (*** 1/2)

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While it at times reprises the brutally methodological directorial style of the nevertheless talented Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Beyond the Hills), Graduation largely offers up a more accessible dramatic canvas, even if it’s perhaps no coincidence that the end result isn’t quite as compelling as his most acclaimed works.

Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) will go to practically any lengths to ensure the academic success of his smart, talented daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Drăgus), so when an assault leaves her arm injured and her school refuses to grant her more time to sit a series of important exams, Romeo goes about arranging her sure success himself by shadier means.

It’s a more outwardly playful and amusing premise than the two aforementioned Mungiu movies for sure, albeit one still steeped in a not-insignificant disdain for the Romanian institutions that, either intentionally or not, oppress good, hard-working people. That the father’s main goal is to see his daughter pass her exams so she can leave the country and study abroad in the UK, is about as telling as it gets.

There are, however, definitely times where Graduation is, honestly, a bit of a drag; the pace borders on glacial at times, and there’s not really much justification for the film clocking in at over two hours in length. As marvelous as Mungiu’s long takes are, especially those where father and daughter go back and forth, there are occasional dips that play as outright sluggish.

Still, the rewards are self-evident all the same; Aldea gives one of the year’s strongest performances without question as a desperate man more keen to ship his daughter out of Romania than she actually is to leave. It’s a tragi-comic scenario beyond much comparison, but one that Alaea mostly (and smartly) plays straight, the odd idiosyncratic quip notwithstanding.

As usual with Mungiu, the film looks smooth as silk and the human drama is nothing if not palpable against a grim socio-political backdrop. It may seem a little minor compared to his more prominent, epic and sweeping prior films, but it’s still exceedingly worthy and, for the most part, exceptionally well-crafted.

*** 1/2

Graduation premiered at the London Film Festival on October 8th

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