Romanian cinema extends its hot streak with Graduation, from former Palme d’Or winner Cristian Mungiu.
This a sprawling, brilliant work about a father trying to get the best deal for his daughter. Romeo (Adrien Titeni), a harassed local Doctor in the post-communist Transylvanian city of Cluj, is caught at his mistresses’ flat when news of his 18-year-old daughter being assaulted comes through.
As it’s on the eve of her school final exams, he’s worried she won’t perform well enough to earn her promised place at a university in the “civilised” UK.
Romeo sets about using his local contacts to ensure she gets good marks, calling in favours from (and granting them to) other bourgeois dignitaries, such as his mate in the police (Vlad Ivanov, that great actor who was so menacing as the abortionist in Mungiu’s 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days) and a politician with access to the school boards.
Meanwhile, Romeo has to deal with his wife, his ailing mother and his mistress (a teacher at the daughter’s school, of course), as well as obsess about tracking down his daughter’s attacker. And just who is messing with his car, bending its windscreen wipers? And who threw a stone into his apartment window?
There’s something of Michael Haneke here, a throb of collective guilt and a threat of societal implosion. Mungiu practically gives us a tour of the community, the dowdy kitchens, the bread, pickles and butter, the kitsch plastic flower decorations, the crumbling social housing, the car radios, the generational clashes. The camera hovers and buzzes like a fly, not even resting on a wall.
It’s a film about a nation in flux, spectacularly skewering modern Europe and the generations caught in its flow of altered aspirations and fast-changing moralities.