Escape from Transylvania
A very Romanian drama of corruption and hope
Burly, bespectacled Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is a genial, energetic physician in a town in present-day Romania. He has a rather chilly relationship with his very disenchanted wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his comparatively cordial relations with his mistress, a redheaded single mom named Sandra (Malina Manovici), are getting a bit frayed as well.
The person he seems to care most about is Eliza (Maria Dragus), his almost grown daughter and only child of his marriage to Magda. Eliza is about to graduate from high school and is getting ready to take the exams that she and her family hope will get her into an English university and, just as important, out of Romania. Romeo in particular has a large emotional investment in helping Eliza get free of what he sees as the dysfunctional and corrupt Romanian society to which both he and Magda have, perhaps unwittingly, succumbed.
Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) works that fraught family situation into a gently corrosive, psychologically astute comedy of contemporary manners. In (very pungent) addition, he’s layered the domestic drama with a stingingly intricate case study of the ways in which the corruption and cronyism Romeo holds in contempt become deeply entangled with his hopes for Eliza’s liberation. The drama surrounding her exams gets an additional complicating twist when Eliza is assaulted while walking at night, and Romeo himself feels caught up in a series of minor harassments from persons unknown.
Mungiu’s signature style, a matter-of-fact realism that is compelling without ever needing to be ostentatious, is rewardingly present throughout Graduation. The blend of everyday reality with provocative issues and drama is consistently fresh and engaging.
The understated performances in the four main roles are quietly and intensely effective. And there’s similarly effective work in several of the smaller roles, especially Rares Andrici as Eliza’s boyfriend; Alexandra Davidescu as Romeo’s mother; and Orsolya Moldován as a trusted female colleague at Romeo’s hospital.