5 June 2017



This is the best on-screen portrayal I think I've ever seen of a truly shit marriage and dysfunctional family relationships. Here's how it's described by the higher-ups:

'Winner of the Best Director prize of Cannes 2016, GRADUATION is a stunningly-crafted morality play from one of European cinema's most revered auteurs. Executed with intricate formal precision and Mungiu's characteristically raw and authentic form of naturalism, GRADUATION is the mark of a film-maker at the height of his powers.'

I'm immensely looking forward to checking out this director's other works, because GRADUATION is just fantastic. It's set in Transylvania, of all places, but it's not a horror film and there isn't a single sighting of you-know-who or garlic or crucifixes or any of the other paraphernalia of the vampire or those that would bring about his downfall, the cheeky blighters.

It's actually set on a rather rough-looking housing estate, not unlike some of the ones we have here in Dublin. A doctor, his wife and his teenage daughter live in cramped conditions in one of the small box-like houses.

Doctors in Dublin would usually live in big fancy posh houses in fancy posh areas, so it's unusual to see a doctor and his family living somewhere where they can get a brick through their living-room window and the doctor's car windscreen can be smashed into smithereens all in the one week.

Both of these things happen in the film, by the way, but of course when you go to catch the little feckers 'whodunnit,' they're nowhere to be seen. Yep, just exactly like Dublin, so...!

The doctor is a staid, bespectacled, solidly-built middle-aged man with the unlikely name of Romeo. He sleeps on the couch in his own home and he and his desperately unhappy wife Magda, a librarian, barely speak to each other.

Their priority is their daughter and only child Eliza, who's doing her final school exams. She's won a scholarship to a university in the UK, but it's dependent on her finals results, so a lot is riding on those final exams.

Romeo in particular wants Eliza to get out of Romania and make a better life for herself somewhere else, like he seems to think that he and Magda have failed to do. He seems to have idealised this wonderful 'new life' in England he thinks that Eliza's going to have. I'm sure it's not all 'being chased by squirrels in Kensington Park,' you know...!

He's not really taking into account that a life anywhere is what you make of it. You can be as miserable and lonely, I'm sure, in the middle of a thriving metropolis as you can be in a backwater community at the foot of a mountain in Romania.

Personally speaking, I think that Romeo and Magda have done all right for themselves. In particular, I've always wanted to be a librarian. Being paid to be around books and handling them all day would do me nicely. Plus people in films are always having sex down by the back of the libraries where the hard books are that no-one ever checks out. Sounds all right to me, haha.

Anyway, it's the be-all-and-end-all for Romeo in particular that Eliza should pass her exams with flying colours. So, when a shocking event happens to Eliza on the very eve of these exams, something that casts a major doubt on whether she can do as well as she should in them, Romeo starts to panic.

Eliza's bright future in an English college starts to slip through his fingers. He can see only one way out of her dilemma. It's not what you know but who you know, right? He goes to a friend who owes him a favour...

It's a film about corruption in high and even low places, but for me it's mainly a film about some terribly dysfunctional family relationships. There's no love left between Romeo and Magda, even though they must have loved each other once.

Romeo's relationship with his attractive young single-mum mistress is nearly as bad as the one he has with his wife. Conducted in secret, obviously, their interaction is strained and he has no interest in her beyond the sex they have when he calls to her tiny flat.

He doesn't care about her small special-needs son and, whenever the mistress (called Sandra, great name!) complains about her lot, Romeo falls back on the excuse used by every married man ever when his bit-on-the-side is giving him hassle: 

'You knew I was married when we got together...!' 

Grrrrr. The way he reacts to Sandra's news is absolutely infuriating.

Marius, Eliza's motorcyclist boyfriend, isn't up to much either. All the interpersonal relationships in the film suffer dreadfully from a lack of communication. If you don't talk to each other ever, then how the hell do you ever know what the other person is thinking or what they want out of life?

Romeo and, to a lesser extent, Magda, have been so busy making all of Eliza's decisions for her that they possibly haven't got a clue what she really wants out of her life. Maybe she doesn't even want to go to college in the UK, have they ever thought of that? It might surprise them to find out what their little girl really wants to do...

This superb film, a lengthy 128 minutes but all of them utterly gripping, is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now courtesy of CURZON/ARTIFICIAL EYE. 

It comes complete with a charming little interview with the director Cristian Mungiu, a handsome chap indeed, in which he's asked about everything from his directing process to the last film he watched in the cinema.

I absolutely loved GRADUATION. I loved everything about it, from the setting in Transylvania, of all places, (isn't it incredible to think that it really exists and that people actually live there in modern times?) to the gritty, realistic portrayal of relationships gone wrong. I'll be watching it again very soon. You can count on that.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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