Saturday, August 18, 2018

Catching up with one of 2017's best films: Cristian Mungiu's quietly riveting GRADUATION

Out now on Blu-ray/DVD from The Criterion Collection and brimming with first-rate Special Edition Features, GRADUATION, the latest film from terrifically talented Romanian writer/director Cristian Mungiu, was first seen theatrically in the USA back in April of 2017. It is by far the best of the four of his films I've so far seen -- which also include Beyond the Hills, Four Months Three Weeks and Two Days, and the smart, ironic and underseen Tales From the Golden Age -- and it is a major leap forward for the amazing Mr. Mungiu, shown below.

Graduation is all about connections and their usage. So many of the movies that have come out of the Eastern Bloc over the past decade -- since the fall of that wall and the splitting off of the Soviet empire -- have dealt with this idea of how all-important were/are  "connections" during and since the end of Communist rule.

Once again the Romanian writer/director bears out this idea in his story of a family soon-to-be in crisis, due to its use of connections, together with a very slippery morality amongst just about everyone involved in this sad, gray tale.

A bricked tossed through an apartment window begins the film. Why? And by whom? We wonder, as does the family at the center of the film: a father (Adrian Ttitieni, above) and mother (Lia Bugnar, below) intent of having their only daughter graduate with honors so that she can attend a university and then a medical school in the west. Present-day Romania, it seems, is nowhere in which you'd want to your beloved offspring to grow into adulthood.

The daughter herself (Maria Dragus, below), as we learn from the outset, seems not so keen on this idea, having grown a little too close to her boyfriend and not wanting to leave behind her other friends. When the girl appears to have been attacked on her way to school and may not be able to take the tests she'll need to graduate, Dad goes into immediate action, using every connection he has and calling in every debt he is owed (or imagines that he is owed) to ensure his daughter's welfare/endeavor.

Then morality of all this is suspect from the outset and simply grows worse as the movie moves along. How everyone involved proves so easily corruptible, together with the lengths to which most of them will go to ensure their own welfare, is handled just about perfectly: neither too heavy-handedly nor too easily. We see each person's problems, as well as the "bigger picture," and so we understand how this is all happening, even as we also wonder how we would react in such a situation.

Mungiu is by now a master at this kind of dark social satire. He is also uber-competent at finding just the right situation -- important yet nothing too awful or life-threatening -- to bring out the kind of behavior he wants to point up. Yet he is also a grand entertainer with an ability, via exceptional casting, writing and directing, to bring out the worst in the best way.

The film fairly drips with irony, though the drips are so light and frequent that you barely notice some of them. Eventually, they're a flood. TrustMovies is sorry he did not see this film sooner, for it would have made his 2017 Best List for certain (he'll place it there now, in any case). From Criterion, in Romanian with English subtitles and running a lengthy but consistently engrossing 127 minutes, it is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Among the grand Special Features included on the disc is a terrific new interview with filmmaker Mungiu, and wonderfully informative video of the Cannes Film Festival press conference from 2016 featuring a Q&A with the director and several of his actors, including the very hot-looking young man (Rares Andrici, below) who plays the daughter's interesting but quite unsettling boyfriend.

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