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Romanian 'Graduation' explores the ethical limits of a loving parent
Adrian Titieni, left, and Maria-Victoria Dragus in Graduation. - photo by Josh Terry
GRADUATION 3 stars Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici; R (language); Broadway

Graduation is a subtle examination of the ethics of parenthood and a voice for a people whose post-Soviet hopes went unfulfilled.

Romeo (Adrian Titieni) is a doctor living in Romania. He and his wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), returned to Cluj shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, hoping that long-awaited opportunities would enable them to fulfill long-awaited dreams. Years later, life is bleak and dangerous, and after dropping off his teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) at school one morning, Romeo is contacted with the news that she was sexually assaulted before she could make it to class.

The timing couldnt be worse. Eliza has secured a scholarship to Cambridge, provided she performs well on her final exams. But even though Eliza was able to fend off her attacker, Romeo fears that his daughter will be too shaken to make the necessary marks. So he begins searching out old contacts in the police department and the local government, hoping to ensure that Eliza receives the opportunities he feels she has already earned.

In the process, Romeo becomes entangled with a local vice-mayor (Petre Ciubotaru) who has been waiting for a liver transplant, and Romeos personal investigation into the assault leads him to suspect Elizas boyfriend, Marius (Rares Andrici).

The assault is just the latest drama for Romeo, who has been secretly seeing an employee at Elizas school (Sandra, played by Malina Manovici) for a year. His marriage with Magda is functional in name only and his unethical efforts to intervene on Elizas behalf only increase tensions at home. Romeo also begins to believe he is being stalked after a series of minor incidents begin to form a pattern.

Director Cristian Mungiu leads Graduation along at a steady pace, mostly linking static, single-shot scenes of Romeo interacting with the other supporting characters. Theres a little bit of whodunit going on, and as Romeo gets deeper into his conspiracy on behalf of his daughter, the line between loving father and criminal begins to wipe away.

Underneath all the drama lies Romeos sincere and broken hopes. He desperately wants his daughter to escape the unfulfilled trap his life in Romania has become. Theres a sense that Romeo and Magda stand in for many whose hopes for a post-Soviet world in Eastern Europe fell far short of expectation.

Titieni plays his character with methodic, patient tension. Even when ultimately confronted by investigating authorities, Romeo is able to hide his inner turmoil, and one gets the sense that deceit is not a massive leap for the man, in spite of his generally honorable medical reputation.

Graduation looks as bleak as it feels, shot under a perpetually overcast, gray sky. It carries a mild R rating thanks to some mild sexual content and some brief vulgar language (in subtitles), but thankfully, the assault at the beginning of the film happens entirely off camera and is only recreated through testimony later on.

Altogether, Graduation holds the hearts of its viewers, who will question how far they will go on behalf of their innocents at home, but it also makes it clear how Romeos world, fair or not, exists largely of his making.

Graduation is rated R for some language; it is presented in Romanian with English subtitles; running time: 128 minutes.
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