Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"Cristian Mungiu is such a master of vivisecting human interrelations that we might almost overlook how he sets the tone with animals, vegetables and minerals." | Photo: © Mobra Films/Why Not Productions/les Films du Fleuve

We may gasp less than in 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and feel less urgency than in Beyond The Hills, but Graduation (Bacalaureat) is no less unforgettable. Cristian Mungiu is such a master of vivisecting human interrelations that we might almost overlook how he sets the tone with animals, vegetables and minerals.

In the case of Graduation, stray dogs roam, apples, oranges and lemons are bought and sliced by the ever calculating father, while rocks and bricks from the crumbling buildings are everywhere. Who throws the first stone in his latest Romanian tale is a mystery - the first of many.

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Romeo (Adrian Titieni), a doctor in the hospital of a provincial town wishes nothing more urgently than for his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) to be awarded a scholarship to Cambridge so that she can leave for "civilised" England. All Eliza has to do is pass the graduation exams with her usual, excellent grades.

One morning during the family's stressful week, Dad is in a hurry and lets his daughter - whom he drives to school every day - out of the car near a construction site instead of right in front of the entrance. That day, Eliza is assaulted. Romeo receives the call while he is with his mistress, Sandra (Malina Manovici), - the real reason for his hurry. How much his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), Eliza's mother, knows is not revealed to us.

We are placed in the position of a nosy neighbor who picks up on clues and speculates. The assault, the girl's trauma, the all-important, future-deciding exams starting the next day, and the strained family dynamics are effectively folded into a larger political context of corruption and bribery.

Can the concerned father use his position in the hospital to get a life-saving liver transplant for Vice-Mayor Bulai (Petre Ciubotaru) in exchange for some help with the exam results? The Chief Inspector (Vlad Ivanov), Romeo's childhood friend, has some suggestions and so does the exam committee president (Gelu Colceag). Everybody knows everybody and news travels fast.

One hand washes another while interconnectedness facilitates and endangers the rampant, age-old corruption. Mungiu shows people discussing questions of morality, people who are aware that cheating on exams or accepting bribes is wrong and do it anyway. In a scene of real horror, Eliza's boyfriend Marius (Rares Andrici) shows himself to go a step further.

Scenes of delicate opacity haunt the film. At a police lineup, one of the suspects is hidden from our view by the back of Eliza's head. From a bus, Romeo sees someone and follows that spectre into the night and crosses over to a neighborhood soaked in sounds of invisible people and dogs. A giant human mole hill starts us off in the first image. Is it a grave the invisible digger is excavating, or will a Carpathian castle be built?

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2016
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Story of a small town doctor who is faced with a stark choice after his daughter is assaulted.
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Director: Cristian Mungiu

Writer: Cristian Mungiu

Starring: Vlad Ivanov, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Ioachim Ciobanu, Adrian Titieni, Gheorghe Ifrim, Emanuel Parvu, Valeriu Andriuta, Claudia Susanu, Adrian Vancica, Liliana Mocanu, Lia Bugnar, Tudor Smoleanu, Andrei Morariu, Rares Andrici, Constantin Cojocaru

Year: 2016

Runtime: 128 minutes

Country: Romania, France, Belgium

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