Sorry for re-posting, but Criterion’s Bluray of Cristian Mungiu‘s Graduation pops tomorrow (5.22). Maybe there are some who missed my original review. Even if the jacket art bores or puzzles you, this 2017 film (which premiered in Cannes in May 2016) is really quite essential.
It’s a fascinating slow-build drama about ethics, parental love, compromised values and what most of us would call soft corruption. It basically says that ethical lapses are deceptive in that they don’t seem too problematic at first, but they have a way of metastasizing into something worse, and that once this happens the smell starts to spread and the perpetrators start to feel sick in their souls.
I don’t necessarily look at things this way, and yet Mungiu’s film puts the hook in. I felt the full weight of his viewpoint, which tends to happen, of course, when you’re watching a film by a masterful director, which Mungui (Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, Beyond The Hills) certainly is.
And yet I tend to shy away from judging people too harshly when they bend the rules once or twice. Not as a constant approach but once in a blue moon. I’m not calling myself a moral relativist, but I do believe there’s a dividing line between hard corruption and the softer, looser variety, and I know that many of us have crossed paths with the latter. Let he who’s without sin cast the first stone.
Politicians or dirty cops who accept payoffs from ne’er-do-wells in exchange for favoritism or looking the other way — that’s hard, blatant corruption. Soft corruption is a milder manifestation — a form of ethical side-stepping that decent people go along with from time to time in order to (a) prevent something worse from happening or (b) to help a friend or family member who’s in a tough spot and needs a little friendly finagling to make the problem go away or become less acute.
The soft corruption in Graduation, which is set in a mid-sized town in Transylvania (the region in Romania where Dracula came from), has to do with a father (Adrian Titieni) who’s trying to help his daughter (Maria Dragus), an A-student who hopes to study psychology in London, with her final exam. Unfortunately she’s obliged to take the exam right after suffering an attack by a would-be rapist. The assault momentarily scrambles her brain, and she winds up not doing as well as she might have otherwise.