Graduation (Bacalaureat)Cristian Mungui(Romania 2016) Adrian Titieni
viewed Tyneside Cinema 4th April 2017;ticket £9.75
Feels like one of those calling cards
Cristian Mungui’s Graduation has elements that suggest a sort of family-centred gothic drama, a sub-branch of a David Lynch style of movie.A series of proto Gothic events which punctuate the movie, are the strongest moments in Graduation.These events comprising a number of‘unexplained’ incidents one of which, the breaking of a window, opens the film; and another of which, the sexual assault on Eliza, gives the film narrative direction, if not its substance.
The problem is that these elements fail to cohere, and Graduation as film is less than the sum of its parts.The movie registers as if it were the first chapter of a six part TV drama.But Cristian Mingui is unable to make Graduation work as a stand alone piece. It doesn't develop as anything more than a series of events linked by a network of characters, about whom there is little reason to care because they are less characters more ciphers called into existence to activate the script. Graduation is peopled by roles who don't possess identities but rather function as interlinking rods in the engine of the scenario.Like multi part TV series, Graduation is a densely scripted metaphoric representation, a depicting of the social matrix that relies on links between action and events to drive it foreword.
The action is set in Cluj the regional capital of Transylvania. Mungui’s settings are contemporary renderings of various backgrounds:the unremarkable housing projects the places and apartments where people where people live and work.The mundane nature of these settings, the music ( a lot of Handel and Purcell emanating from Romeo’s car radio), the repeated shots of the stray dogs in the streets, all signify the film’sclaims to a certain type of contemporary authenticity. Likewise the socio- psychic setting of the film which embeds all relations within webs of failure and corruption that bind togather the institutional matrices of post communist Romania. But again, like the backgrounds, the matrices of corruption seem to emanate from a stylistic noir conceit, representing the film’s claim on authenticity within the TV drama tradition.Everything has to be expressed as corrupt because in accord with the conceit, developed from Marlow onwards, the corrupt is the best dramatic representation of the ‘real’.The trouble is that in Graduation so much of the content describes corruption that it is reduced to cliché.As cliché folds over cliché the film starts to pay the cost of the script’s inability to avoid predictable development.
Graduation’s script becomes a series of conventional devices that are overdetermining and fail to create tension in the drama: the film starts to become dull.A quality that affects an acting style adopted which again looks derivative from TV noir model.The main gestural resources of the acting are invariant sets of: eye shots - the hard eyed stare being the most overused, the stretched rictus, the facial gesture of down cast eyes signifying wait and see. Such is the invariance in body language and gesture in particular of Romeo’s wife that she becomes a sort of running joke.
Initially Graduation starts out as an assured drama with the notable moment of a glass window shattered by a stone. As it develops, in particular after Eliza’s ‘rape’it quickly resorts to trading in plot moments. The characters become pawns of the frenzied plot.We are not given the space to see something in the relations.We are manipulated by events:the heart attack of Romeo’s grandmother, the endless machinations of the corruption machines, Romeo’s love affair, the abortion, an autistic boy, the continuous hints in the scenario that Romeo has some unrevealed secret.
Mingui has made a confused film. The gothic contentthe inter personal and the social relations don’t mesh but rather vie for primacy making a film that is out of focus and looking more like the opening episode of a mini series that will never be completed.