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Review: Father greases wheels for child in ‘Graduation’

A masterfully told ethical tale from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Graduation” is a first-rate study in morals and ethics, an an example of how cutting corners can kick off a chain reaction of decay that’s difficult to stop.

Adrian Titieni is Romeo, a doctor in Romania whose daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) is getting ready to graduate high school. Eliza has a lot riding on her finals, which will determine whether she stays at home or heads off to university in the UK. So Romeo uses his influence to ever so slightly grease the system, one more cog in the wheel of societal injustice that has proliferated for generations.

In the hands of a different filmmaker, things could spiral out of control or quickly shoot over-the-top. But writer-director Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) plays everything like it’s unfolding in real life; he doesn’t have an artificial bone in his body.

Conversations unfold in long one-shot takes, where dialogue advances the plot. The camera never pushes or interferes, it simply observes, and Mungiu’s beats are the rhythms of the everyday.

Titieni holds it all together on his everyman shoulders. He looks like the guy behind you in line at the hardware store, and is every bit believable as a man trying to hold his life together while never letting it show. His character is morally complex — he’s having an affair with a school teacher, refuses a bribe from a patient and is trying to do right by his daughter in her schooling — and Titieni’s perfectly balanced performance is one of quiet strength.

“Graduation” has a lot on its mind, but is told in such an intimate way it’s like eavesdropping on a conversation: the closer you listen, the more you’ll hear.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Graduation’

GRADE: B+

Rated R: for some language

Running time: 127 minutes