Friday, February 9, 2018

The Process of Cristian Mungiu's Graduation Is Not Without Dire Consequences

How far would you go to help your child? It's a moral quandary that comes up a lot in movies, but typically such movies face that question in the form of a thriller or an action movie (the latter type of presentation typically stars Liam Neeson). For Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's newest movie Graduation, he decides to explore this question in the confines of a grim drama, one that's heavy on realistic conversations and bleak storytelling. Graduation follows the lengths a father will go to in order to help his child not by showing the father fighting off an army of kidnappers but rather by trying to get his child into a good college so that she can have a better future.

The father in question that Graduation revolves around is Romeo (Adrien Titieni), a guy whose life is in a rut right now. He and his wife are stuck in a marriage that's obviously circling the drain, he lives in an area where he's more likely to wake up to a rock being thrown through his window than a sunrise and now his daughter, Eliza (Maria Dragus), has narrowly escaped the hands of a sexual assaulter who attacked her on her way to school. Understandably, Eliza is experiencing trauma related to this experience and now Romeo is worried this means, despite Eliza's high level of intellect, she won't be able to pass exams that she needs to excel at in order to claim scholarships for high-profile colleges.

Wanting his daughter to have the education necessary to get her to a better life beyond the town he's been confined to his whole life, Romeo begins pulling some strings to try to help his daughter's testing experience. Considering he's already cheating on his wife with another woman, Romeo is no strang to duplicity, but just how far is he gonna go in committing these morally questionable acts for his daughter? That is a puzzle Romeo barely grasps with as he barrels through with doing whatever it takes to ensure that his daughter gets the opportunity to lead a more lucrative life than the one he's had to endure. It's a noble intention, but it's one that Cristian Mungiu's script makes clear early on will only result in trouble.

While Romeo may feel he has the best intentions at heart, Graduation makes it clear he's also becoming another hindrance to Eliza fulfilling her full potential. Romeo has a tendency to treat his daughter as an object instead of a person with her own autonomy. Just look at how his primary concern after Eliza's assault experience is how these events may affect her education future. The down-to-Earth manner in which Graduation tells its story makes it clear that we're not dealing with a bad man here, but in Romeo, we are dealing with a complex human being whose biggest flaw is in seeing the people closest to him as objects to be shuffled around at his will. Even if he expresses that in caring or sincere ways, it can't mitigate that he see's his daughter and wife as well for that matter, as inferior, not equals.

This ballad of moral decay in the name of lifting up a daughter's future is told in a visual style reminiscent of Mungiu's 2007 masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Nights as dialogue-heavy sequences transpire amidst a rough and rugged city terrain. Whereas that other Mungiu project had a large share of its story take place in a classy hotel though, Graduation rarely deviates itself from taking placing in worn-down everyday locations fitting for the more normal suburban life Romeo and his family carry out. The camerawork typically opts for extended single shots (again, akin to Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Nights) that allow the various bleak-in-tone conversations between characters to be carried on in a single harrowing take.

Mungiu's writing has a gift for crafting both dialogue and verbal actions that manage to be really devastating, this guy just does not hold back in having the absolute most mortifying experiences occur to his characters. This means Graduation is one of those dramas whose ending scene offers no concrete conclusion that Romeo's problems will be solved in the near future, on the contrary, what we see in the final scenes of the movie suggest things are only going to get worse for Romeo. As the consequences of Romeo's actions linger in the air as he attempts to go about his normal life, a final moment of Eliza, now a newly minted High School graduate, being told to smile for a camera, resulting in her hiding away her inner torment as she puts on a fake smile before the screen cuts to black, feels all too appropriate. It's a subtly haunting moment, which means it's perfect tonally as a capper on Graduation.

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