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A father goes to extremes for the sake of his daughter's future in "Graduation," a tough-minded drama from Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu about the corrosive effects of living in a corrupt society.
Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is a doctor in a small mountain town in Transylvania who has invested all his hopes and dreams in his daughter, Eliza (Maria Dragus). Romeo and his morose wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), have scrimped to pay for expensive tutors and independent study, and it's all about to pay off. Eliza is about to take her senior final exams, and she's sure to get the grades she needs to land a scholarship to study in England far away from the depressing atmosphere of Romania.
One fateful morning, Romeo is taking Eliza to school, and they get stuck in traffic. Eliza gets out about a block from the school, intending to take a shortcut across a building site. Romeo agrees because he's in a rush to see his mistress, Sandra (Malina Manovici), a teacher in Eliza's school.
As Eliza crosses the building site, she's attacked and sexually assaulted. She ends up with her arm in a cast and distracted from taking her first exam the next day. Romeo is insistent that she carry on with the exams, saying they are the only way she'll escape the violence of their town. But Eliza, who retreats from him to be comforted by her boyfriend, Marius (Rares Andrici), isn't even sure she wants to leave.
Romeo doesn't want to leave Eliza's future to chance, and so begins a journey down a dark road of connections, favors and influence. He pleads to the head of the school's exam committee (Gelu Colceag) for some accommodation and that pleading gains some weight because the school official knows the vice-mayor, Bulai (Petre Ciubotaru). Bulai requires a favor, too: He's sick and on the recipient list for a liver transplant, and a call from a prominent doctor like Romeo might boost his chances.
Meanwhile, Romeo also must contend with his ailing mother (Alexandra Davidescu) and try to catch the mysterious vandal who keeps throwing rocks at his car and the family's living-room windows.
With intimate handheld camerawork and an ear for overlapping dialogue, Mungiu exposes a corrupt system that works much like the backroom abortion network he depicted in his 2007 masterpiece "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days." Laws and rules are secondary to nods and winks, and the cumulative effect of navigating these secret deals can push even a well-intended man, like Romeo, to a moral breaking point.
"Graduation" is a showcase for Titieni, playing a man who will risk all his career, his marriage, his reputation to get his daughter what he thinks she needs. It's a quietly intense performance that encapsulates the dilemma faced by anyone trying to game a system designed by sharks to keep minnows like him in their place.
A doctor goes to dangerous extremes to ensure his daughter's future in this intense drama from Romania.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, April 28.
Rating • R for some language.
Running time • 128 minutes; in Romanian, with subtitles.