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Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:24:21 -0500



Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's film Graduation opens on an old, ugly, concrete housing complex as a stone is thrown through Dr. Romeo Aldea's front window in his very modest apartment. To say this signals immediately and forcefully that all is not well understates the situation. Dr. Aldea drops doted-on daughter Eliza at her school while he liaisons with his lover. 

Preparing to take her final exams on which her British university scholarship depends, eighteen-year-old Eliza is attacked from behind. At the hospital, the following conversation makes clear that citizens manage their lives through pulling strings and exerting influence on individuals they know, which means payback is expected. Thus begins a spiraling descent through corruption, lies, and betrayal on a very personal level for the family and in the public arena where quiet deal-making holds sway. Though more than once Aldea hears, "We have rules," these rules parade as mere window dressing while in the back room, calmly and systematically, arrangements develop: a man needs a liver transplant, a daughter needs a passing grade. I help you now, you help me later. As cheating versus fairness is debated, we also hear "Some important steps in life depend on small decisions." Indeed, choices come with unanticipated consequences. 

Throughout events, no atmospheric music intrudes, though opera that occasionally emanates from a radio makes a strong impression. So too do the long takes as screenwriter Mungiu, with a deft touch, allows unadorned scenes of dialogue to reveal characters. Visually, cramped spaces convey the claustrophobia and entrapment of life in post-Ceausescu Romania, while explicit statements and metaphors explore the philosophical and emotional impact of compromising one's values.

As Dr. Aldea, Adrian Titieni seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, just as he does for the film since he is in every scene. The entire cast creates a cohesive group, immersing us realistically in their lives. This poignant journey into Aldea's heart and soul is one well worth taking. Graduation has won numerous prestigious awards. In Romanian with English subtitles. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.