Graduation is a 2016 film, from Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, that follows a father named Romeo who is helping his teenage daughter Eliza get a scholarship to Cambridge University. After a physical confrontation at school leaves Eliza in a cast and one step further from the scholarship, corruption takes over Romeo as he will do anything to get his daughter out of her current life in Romania. This film is utterly fantastic and beautiful while playing to gloomy aspects of society and politics in this country. Criterion's video and audio presentations are, of course, top notch and the bonus features are informative, yet scarce. Highly Recommended!
Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu has received numerous awards over the last decade for each of his films. All of his movies seem to have a couple of things in common -- characters from different backgrounds coping with a country that is still trying to pick up the pieces after the fall of its communist regime. With corrupt politics and an uneasy past, Mungiu impeccably weaves his characters through a simple and modern story without hitting you over the head with political or social messages. This structure also comes into play in his most recent film Graduation, which was nominated for the Palme d'Or award at Cannes in 2016. While the film didn't win, Mungiu was successful in taking home the Best Director award for Graduation, and most deservedly so.
This Romanian tale doesn't serve the expected dish that American audiences are used to. There is no closure and no big action beats. Instead, Mungiu allows us to contemplate what might have happened to these characters in the end, which also displays the harsh realities of the Romanian culture. Graduation focuses on a man named Romeo, who works as a doctor in a small Romanian town and takes care of his ill wife Magda and his 18-year-old daughter Eliza. His daughter is smart, bright, and full of potential. In fact, Eliza is set to break out of Romania and embark on a full scholarship to Cambridge University in the UK. All Eliza has to do is keep her grades up, however, she is accosted at school, which leaves her with a cast on her arm, causing her to take her exams slower than others.
Meanwhile, Romeo is secretly having an affair with Eliza's teacher. Romeo isn't a bad guy, necessarily, as he deeply cares for his family and especially his daughter, wanting her to get out of their shoddy housing in Romania and start fresh somewhere else for a better life. When Romeo is at the police station trying to find out who accosted his daughter at school, the police chief tells Romeo that a corrupt government official needs a transplant, and if that Romeo can secure the surgery, they will make sure Eliza's exams are all taken care of for her to head to Cambridge. This is where Mungiu sets the final act in motion, displaying the still-corrupt Romanian political system while Romeo tries to keep his family and house from falling apart.
What's fascinating about Graduation is that we never get a resolution to the conflicts at hand, which also rings true for some in real life. All we know is that a man tries his best to take care of his daughter and see her have the life she is meant to have, while the country they live in try to prevent that from happening. Graduation is a somber, yet satisfying movie that enables us to think for ourselves with delightful characters.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Graduation comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Criterion. There is a Criterion booklet that is fully illustrated, which includes cast and crew information, tech specs, and an essay by Bilge Ebiri. This comes with Spine #924. The disc and booklet are housed in a hard, clear plastic case.
Graduation comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio from Criterion. According to the Criterion booklet, this whole movie from 2016 was completed in a fully digital workflow. Clarity and colors look excellent, however, this isn't a bright, glossy movie with tons of primaries. Filming in his own country, Mungiu uses a lot of decaying and moldy colors in his palette to accentuate the grimy, dirty and corrupt environment. There are a lot of greens, blues, and browns throughout, which almost looks like each color has been darkened with shadows. Even exterior shots look muted. It's rather a cold and icy look from start to finish. You might say that all hope has been lost in color here, which is why Mungiu visually shows us in this melancholy image.
Detail, though, is sharp and intense to the point you'll be able to see individual hairs on the actor's faces, the elemental fabrics on Eliza's cast, and even run-down and cracked housing where this family lives. Black levels are dark and skin tones are a little muted, but that is a stylistic decision and not a transfer problem. There are no problems with aliasing, artifacts, or video noise either. While this might not be a colorful image, it still looks fantastic in every way with varying layers of the earthier tones.
Graduation also comes with a Romanian DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix with optional English subtitles. According to the Criterion booklet, this 5.1 audio mix was mastered from the original digital audio master files. This is not an over-the-top action film, but rather a simple movie with a lot of soft dialogue.
Criterion gives us a well-balanced and layered digital audio mix that is extremely sharp. You'll notice, when windows break or vehicles start, that these sounds are deep and sturdy. Not one sound is light-hearted, although the overall ambiance is on the quieter side. Surrounds provide students walking to class or patients in a hospital quite often, giving us a sense of immersion in these active places. The score always adds to emotional note in each scene, while the dialogue is always crystal clear and exquisite without any pops, cracks, or hiss.
Supplements include a new interview with the filmmaker, the Q&A panel at the Cannes film festival, some deleted scenes, a trailer and the famous Criterion Booklet. This is on the lighter side of bonus features, but it's all informative and pleasant to watch.
Graduation is a beautiful work of art put on film by one of the best Romanian filmmakers today. Mungiu never deems his character's path as right or wrong, thus never showing their outcomes. He trusts the audience to come up with our conclusions. The film is beautifully shot in a run-down neighborhood that is trying to still mend the fences from the fall of communism and the characters are all universally engaging and real. The digital video transfer and excellent-sounding audio mix are on par with the rest of the Criterion catalog and, while the bonus features are light-handed, they are worth your time. Highly Recommended!