Part of parenting involves doing everything in your power to give your child the tools to succeed in life. This includes instilling a core set of values that that will help them to make the right choices when confronting tough moral decisions.
As we see in Cristian Mungiu’s latest film, Graduation, just because one teaches moral decency does not mean they practice what they preach. A few hours after a stone is mysteriously thrown through the Aldea family window, Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) receives horrifying news that his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) was the victim of attempted sexual assault near her school shortly after he dropped her off in the morning. To complicate matters for the family, the attack occurs on the day before her final exams. Worried that Eliza’s scholarship to a school in the UK might be in jeopardy, Romeo must decide if ensuring his daughter’s future is worth damaging his reputation as a man of integrity.
Graduation presents several questions regarding whether the culprit who threw the rock, and seems to be taunting Romeo, is connected to the assault? Mungiu purposely leaves the mystery itself vague as he is more interested in using it as a jumping off point for his study of parental decisions and the flaws of the male ego.
Romeo may be well-regarded in his profession, but it becomes clear that there are more cracks in his character than in the Aldea’s broken window. Aside from cheating on his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) with his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici), a single mother he has been seeing for over a year, Romeo has also been keeping the extent of his own mother’s aliment from her.
In trying to stay honourable professionally, while desperately attempting to control every aspect of his personal life, Romeo inadvertently digs himself into a bigger hole with each decision. Similarly to many of the men in the film, Romeo’s own selfishness blinds him to the severity of the numerous moral lines he repeatedly crosses. Every judgment is justified with a strange sense of entitlement, one where his actions are never as bad the criminal activity routinely occurring in his Romanian city. This is most evident when Mungiu observes how Romeo reacts to his daughter being attacked over the course of the film.
Referring to the attack as merely an “accident” at one point, Romeo is far more concerned with her possible exam marks than the emotional state of his daughter. Despite claiming he only has her best interest in mind, one cannot help but see the parallels between Romeo lamenting he and Magda’s decision to stay in Cluj, and his obsession with Eliza getting out. It is as if he can get his own do over by living through his daughter’s potential freedom.
This contrast between past choices and future possibilities are perfectly conveyed through the fine performance by Adrian Titieni and Maria Dragus. Titieni creates a gripping portrayal of a man too oblivious to realize what he fears the most resides within him. Dragus, on the other hand, is wonderful as a teenager trying to cope with both the attack and the shattered image of the father she thought she knew.
Graduation’s final moments may not pack the powerful punch its clinched dramatic fists build up to, but the moral ambiguity that Romeo bobs and weaves in are more than enough to make for an engaging film.