“GRADUATION” My rating: B (Opens April 28 at the Tivoli)
128 minutes | MPAA rating: R
America doesn’t have a filmmaker comparable to Romania’s Cristian Mungiu. For more than a decade now Mungiu has served as his country’s cinematic conscience, exploring in film after film Romania’s troubled past and infuriating present.
His biggest international hit has been 2007’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.” Set in the bad old days of the communist Ceausescu regime it follows a college student as she tries to arrange an illegal abortion for her roommate. That film offered a portrait of a society in which ordinary individuals routinely break the law simply to ensure their day-to-day survival.
Mungiu’s latest, “Graduation,” is set in the post-Ceausescu present. But cheating as a way of life remains entrenched in Romanian culture.
Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is a physician in a provincial Romanian city. He’s a fat, middled-aged man who prides himself on never taking bribes from desperate patients seeking preferential treatment — although he may not exactly be a moral giant, since he’s having an affair with a young single mother (Malina Manovici) who was once his patient.
His daughter, Eliza (Maria Drăguş) is about to graduate from high school. She’s been accepted by Cambridge University in England, much to the delight of Romeo and his phlegmatic wife Magda (Lia Bugnar). The couple fled Romania in the bad old days and returned only after the fall of Ceausescu, anticipating a brave new world of opportunity and promise.
Things didn’t work out that way. The country may no longer be under the thumb of a half-mad strong man, but the stifling bureaucracy makes any kind of real progress problematic. If Eliza is to have any future, Romeo believes, she must get out of Romania.
Just one problem…Eliza can go to England only if she geat high scores on a battery of state-mandated examinations required of all new graduates (they’re kind of like the SATs on steroids).
On the eve of the test Eliza is seriously shaken after an assault by a would-be rapist. Fearing his traumatized daughter may not be at her best for the exams, Romeo looks for an edge.
A sympathetic acquaintance on the police force suggests that Romeo talk to a vice-mayor in need of a kidney transplant. Romeo can pull strings to move the politician up on the transplant list in exchange for Eliza being allowed to cheat on the exam.
It’s the Romanian way of doing things.