Graduation (2016) (Bacalaureat)


Cast includes: Adrian Titieni (Chasing Rainbows), Maria-Victoria Dragus (The White Ribbon), Lia Bugnar (Bucharest Non Stop), Malina Manovici, Rares Andrici (In the House)
Writer/Director: Cristian Mungiu (Beyond the Hills)
Genre: Drama (128 minutes) Romanian with subtitles

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Even in the 21st century, this Romanian neighborhood has the gloom of a Cold War era apartment block. In early morning when the rock comes through the window, Remeo runs outside to investigate. “Did you see who threw it?” asks his daughter Eliza. “No.” “Strange,” Eliza says. Eliza will be late for school if they don’t get going… leaving her mother Magda behind. (The atmosphere inside the home is strange too… a backstory we’ll catch up with later.) Eliza seems nervous about her exams, but she says that’s not it… she’s feeling trepanation about leaving her friends after graduation. “Friends? You’ll make new ones,” says Remeo as he drops her off at school. Eliza isn’t coming directly home after school… she has her motorcycle lessons with Marius. Remeo would like to caution her about priorities, but she’s a good student and already has scholarships at two UK universities if she passes her exams. “The world here will seem so far away,” he tells her, and that’s a good thing… or so he thinks.

Remeo is making love with Sandra in the afternoon when the call comes… Eliza’s been attacked and is in the hospital. When Remeo gets there, doctors assure him that she was “more scared than hurt.” This is the same hospital where Remeo is a surgeon, so his daughter’s case is taken quite seriously. “There was no seamen, but she isn’t a virgin.” (A backstory Remeo will look into later.) For now, it’s about finding out who attacked Eliza. “Call your friend at the police. There’s a chance to catch him.” Remeo knows what he needs to do if he wants the attacker caught… seems like nothing will ever change in Romania… “a back-room deal.” At every turning point in life, someone has a favor they need or a bribe to be paid… one hand washes the other. That’s why Remeo is so determined that Eliza do well on her exams, go to the UK and start a wonderful new life. “Don’t you know she’s a grown up?” Of course, Remeo knows she’s a grown up, but Eliza is not cut out for the realities of life here in Romania. She’s been sheltered.  

The mystery of the attack and Eliza’s upcoming graduation are our starting point for learning about life in Romania, decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. Graft and corruption seem to be a lasting legacy. In their youth Remeo and Magda had had the opportunity to live in the UK, but they thought things were changing in Romania, and they wanted to be part of it. Now Remeo regrets that decision, but we’re not sure what Magda thinks. Maybe they’d still be in love had they not come back to this gloomy existence, which is luxurious compared to what most people have here. Remeo is now a respected doctor, generally known as one of the honest ones, but he has had to make “compromises” for sure. Shouldn’t the next compromises be easier? Somehow, there never seems to be a reset button. Now with a daughter becoming a young adult, he’s finding it harder and harder to continue on the same path. He has to ask, is the “result all that matters?”

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

A father wants a better life for his daughter than what Romania has to offer

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R (Crime)
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Art House
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Post-Soviet era life and corruption
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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