GRAD­U­A­TION, drama, not rated, In Ro­ma­nian with sub­ti­tles, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - Grad­u­a­tion 2 Days. Grad­u­a­tion,

Is it ever right to do wrong? Does virtue nec­es­sar­ily get com­pro­mised when you cut cor­ners to ar­rive at the truth, or to en­sure a de­sired re­sult?

These are the kinds of philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions that pro­pel Cris­tian Mungiu’s first new film in four years. The undis­puted king of the Ro­ma­nian New Wave, Mungiu shared the top di­rect­ing award at last year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val for the movie, which he both wrote and directed.

The­mat­i­cally, rep­re­sents a re­turn to the moral ten­sions Mungiu ex­plored a decade ago in his break­out film, the riv­et­ing abor­tion saga 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and We’re in­tro­duced to a fam­ily un­der­go­ing an in­tense cri­sis: The daugh­ter, El­iza (Maria-Vic­to­ria Dra­gus), needs to pass a gru­el­ing high-school exam to re­ceive a schol­ar­ship to study abroad at the revered Univer­sity of Cam­bridge. But a day be­fore the test be­gins, she’s raped out­side her school, leav­ing her with­drawn and rat­tled, and in no shape to per­form her best on the piv­otal exam.

Per­haps she could wait un­til later, but that’s not ac­cept­able to her fa­ther Romeo (Adrian Ti­tieni), a skilled sur­geon who has spent a life­time dream­ing about his girl get­ting out of the dumpy Tran­syl­va­nian town where they live. So Romeo pushes El­iza to take the test, while he pulls the strings to en­sure she passes. This is a town where ev­ery­one’s on the take. Po­lice of­fi­cers, teach­ers, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials can all be bribed for the right price, if not al­ways for the best of rea­sons.

Mungiu spins an elab­o­rate web, each new layer of de­cep­tion touch­ing more lives, be­com­ing ever more im­pos­si­ble to un­ravel and to fix. Be­fore the drama con­cludes, we’ll not only meet Romeo’s dis­grun­tled li­brar­ian wife, but also his mis­tress who teaches at El­iza’s school, his in­valid mother, El­iza’s ner­vous boyfriend, and sundry pa­tients, co-work­ers, and ac­com­plices. All of them be­moan the wide­spread cor­rup­tion, yet are seem­ingly as swept up in it as is Romeo. Yes, the women seem more in­dig­nant and in­clined to chal­lenge the graft. But, in all truth, much of what Romeo does is de­signed to ben­e­fit them, and they def­i­nitely do ac­cept, and also seem to ex­pect, the spoils.

This is a chal­leng­ing film to watch — not only be­cause Mungiu doesn’t sug­ar­coat his char­ac­ters, but also be­cause he tries to avoid the eas­ier plot twists and turns. For in­stance, there is no mu­si­cal score what­so­ever — no melodies or dirges to sig­nal who’s a hero, who’s a vil­lain, and when to an­tic­i­pate a ma­jor con­fronta­tion or re­ver­sal of for­tunes.

Per­haps that will seem too as­cetic and stripped down, and prob­a­bly turn off the ca­sual viewer. But for those weary of Hol­ly­wood’s bland phoni­ness, this is wel­come medicine — tough, tight sto­ry­telling told with an un­var­nished pas­sion. — Jon Bow­man

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