It’s nice to see Cristian Mungiu channeling his inner Asghar Farhadi, spinning some of the Iranian’s moral fibers into the Romanian New Wave. It’s always been a fruitful method of critiquing one’s society, and Mungiu knows Romania is in sore need of critiquing. The weird thing is, Graduation provides no excitement from such a critique. Farhadi’s films are almost always simmering with tension and gravity, while Mungiu’s own previous efforts had a thrilling darkness about them. Graduation’s ordinariness, by comparison, was something of a letdown. I did like its intent, showing how the disease of corruption in a system is spread by otherwise upright citizens looking for shortcuts in times of need. A situation as mundane as a schoolgirl cheating on her exams in order to secure a prestigious scholarship ends up ruining more than just the morals of her father (who arranges it)—it ends up supporting the very society which her father detests and wants her to leave. Getting out clean is impossible. There’s so much dirt around you. It sticks to you.
Again, however, the film is kind of numbed by its straightforwardness. The father, Romeo, walks or drives around, cheats on his wife with his daughter’s teacher, makes some backroom deals, visits his mother, and so on. His most notable trait is his overbearing grip on his daughter’s life; otherwise, he is your typical bourgeois hypocrite. Some subplots are added to stir the pot: someone keeps throwing rocks at Romeo’s windows, his daughter is sexually assaulted by an unknown man, his mistress may or may not be pregnant with his child. All well and good, except they don’t amount to much in the end. It all boils down to the ease in which Romeo stoops to illegality to do “what is best.” That’s it. For some, I guess, that is enough. I was hoping for some greater dilemmas to enhance Mungiu’s scorn for his native country and its slipperiness.