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Graduation (Bacalaureat)


Written & directed by Christian Mungiu Starring Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Rares Andrici, Lia Bugnar, Malina Manovici & Vlad Ivanov Film Review by Dean Pettipher

With such a fine selection of movies to consider every year at the Oscars and the BAFTAs, temptation compels one to forget the tragic neglect of ‘foreign films’ from the spotlight, as well as the glowing national praise and constructive scrutiny that come with it. The principle aim of such ceremonies to promote American and British films respectively, resulting in only about four films from the rest of the world receiving any significant attention for their merits, means that more casual movie enthusiasts are often missing out on what could be, for them at least, some of their favourite movies of all-time. Graduation (2016) (aka Bacalaureat), a phenomenal addition to world cinema history could, with all but absolute certainty, be one of those films, for the movie is a truly world-class example of fine storytelling through fairly minimalistic methods that most likely played no small part in generating the critical success enjoyed at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, during which the picture won the Best Director prize for Christian Mungiu, while also being nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or award.

Graduation tells an ostensibly plain tale about a physician, named Romeo, who resides in an elusive Romanian town. The good doctor has an eighteen-year-old daughter, called Eliza, who he hopes will take up the higher education opportunity to study abroad in the UK, once she passes some fatefully important examinations. Such ambitions begin to head towards Hell when Eliza suffers from a sudden, mysterious incident. Thus, Romeo feels left with no choice but to break the various moral codes, beyond the commandments that he may have already personally decided to ignore long ago, in order to keep his dream for Eliza alive, whatever the cost.

Without a doubt, the greatest quality of Graduation that propels all of its other elements into a rapid ascension towards the diamond standard is the screenplay. At least from the perspective of relying on the script’s English translation to understand what is happening, never before has dialogue in a movie consistently felt so, so sharp, meaning that not a single word making up the final draft feels unnecessary. Layer upon layer of conflict in particular, proceeding towards more internal conflicts each time, is masterfully pulled back through succinct dialogue that from start to finish always achieves the screenwriter’s guidelines of advancing the plot and/or adding to the characters in some way, until the audience is left with enough deliberate, thought-provoking questions to fuel conversations and even debates surrounding morality for quite a long time. Moreover, one other consequence of the excellent writing and its interpretation through the cinema screen is that Graduation becomes one of the few films not to use any music, save for tunes playing over the radio or phones ringing, in such a way that is so superb, one barely notices, or at least hardly cares for, the absence of what is often the unsung essential blood-flow that keeps the heart of the movie alive. Therefore, it is left to the actors to prove that the emotions within the story are, indeed, deeply felt.

All of the performances are more or less equally brilliant, for they all seem to appear very controlled, with the female characters especially coming across as demure but strong-willed presences. Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus and Malina Manovici shine brightest, for they each combine cautious vocal expression with controlled facial motion to present the quintessential states of their respective roles. Mungiu and the crew clearly know how to bring the best out of the cast, not dissimilar to the effect that Paul Thomas Anderson or Alexander Payne, for example, appear to have on the ability of the actors with whom they work to truly and compellingly illustrate their sheer capacity for bringing the purest sentiments of their characters to life in front of the camera.

Audiences maintain interest in Graduation principally through great anticipation of the denouement, in spite of the film being very dialogue-heavy in the sense that not much heated, quick-paced action takes place. Mungiu has crafted a masterpiece, using imagery that makes the gloomiest settings appear as aesthetically-pleasing backdrops for his finely-tuned script and cast. No talking heads, therefore, are in sight. If Hollywood or Pinewood were, in the future, to temporarily snap up the film’s talent from Romania or wherever it might presently reside on or beyond the European continent, the thought of what could potentially be brought to the artists roundtable as a result is one marked only by plentiful amounts of excitement.


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