- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu believes that, as a man approaches 50, he naturally starts looking back on his life. And if there is much there he dislikes, many of his ensuing choices will likely be unfortunate.

The Romanian director of “Graduation” used that as the springboard for his new film, which opens in the District Friday.

“Around 50, when you look back on your life, if you’re not necessarily very pleased with what you see, there’s really not much you can change,” Mr. Mungiu told The Washington Times of his main character, Romeo (Adrian Titieni), a Romanian physician married and with a teenage daughter.

It is Romeo’s hopes for his daughter, Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus), that give him a sense of purpose as “Graduation” opens. If Eliza scores high enough on a crucial exam, she will almost certainly be headed to England on a promising scholarship.

“You can only hope that … your experience might help your children, which is just an illusion,” Mr. Mungiu said of Romeo and his phantasmagorical hopes.

Alas, Eliza is assaulted on the night before her big test, and the administrators are hesitant to push back the exam date, even under such difficult circumstances. Thus is set in motion Romeo’s moral challenge of perhaps trying to grease the right palms in order to ensure that his daughter’s promise can yet be fulfilled.

“I had started wanting to do something that would speak about this relationship between compromise as a personal choice and corruption in society,” Mr. Mungiu, who also wrote the screenplay for “Graduation,” said. “I realized that there could be maybe a connection between [Romeo and Eliza’s] relationship and education.”

While Mr. Mungiu, 48, says his film is far from autobiographical, it was his own experiences as a father that moved his pen in writing the material.

“I need to answer the same questions as this parent,” he said. “It’s the kind of question that most of the people of my generation have heard.”

That question, he said, is the choice between holding tightly onto children or sending them off into the world to enjoy a life better than their parents have had.

Accordingly, the reaction audiences have had to “Graduation” have varied according to their own cultures.

“They interpret this according to their own background,” Mr. Mungiu said. “They can interpret this as, ‘Well, there’s nothing wrong with this father.’ Other times they see him as guilty or corrupt.

“For some countries it’s a bit more complicated to understand this relationship between compromise and corruption.”

As Romeo becomes deeper and deeper enmeshed in trying to talk to the “right” people to ensure that Eliza will have another shot at the exam — while also dealing with his wife Magda’s (Lia Bugnar) gradual awareness of his extramarital affair — the ethical lines become scarily blurred.

“I think that cinema in general should be as ambiguous as life itself is,” Mr. Mungiu said. “And it’s up to you to give them a moral perspective.”

Stylistically, Mr. Mungiu didn’t use a musical score, and his mise en scene entailed as few in-scene edits as possible. He drew on his love of the films of Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave and applied their tenets to “Graduation.”

“There’s no movement of the camera unless you follow something,” he said of his film. “It’s an effort to understand … what are the natural principles of reality” as related through the medium of cinema.

Mr. Mungiu hopes that audiences are stirred to mull over the moral turpitude stirred by “Graduation,”

“Film is just a way of talking about somebody else’s story that would make you understand better your own life,” he said. “I think the film is very layered. It’s about this kind of moral education in a society which is not very moral.”

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