Graduation moves at a methodically slow place with very few big bursts of drama or emotion. We get that early on in the movie, when Romeo Aldea’s daughter is sexually assaulted outside of her school and a little more near the end, but for the core of the film, its mostly characters biting their tongue, holding back their true wishes and desires, never saying what they want to say, but instead telling it with their eyes and darted glances.
Romeo is concerned that after his daughter Maria is sexually assaulted, she will lack the focus to do well on her college entrance exams and not get a scholarship to a prestigious university. At first, his concerns seem sincere, but later on Romeo clearly is revealed as your atypical, overbearing dad. He doesn’t necessarily care about his daughter’s education as much as the perception of his daughter being highly educated. He’s a casual manipulator, subtly coercing the loved ones around him into accepting his opinion as the most valid. After all, he is a respected, successful surgeon, and you’d be CRAZY to not listen to him, as Romeo would like you to believe.
Even though his intentions are good, (or rather, what he wants people to actually believe his intentions are good,) Romeo is far from a saint. He’s having an affair with a younger woman, is neglectful to his wife and even gets into a small physical encounter with his daughter’s boyfriend. Romeo is determined to find his daughter’s assaulter, but it’s not so much that he actually wants to help her out, but just limit the damage caused to his reputation by others finding out the culprit wasn’t caught.
Romeo is not a likable character, and you spend a great deal of the film empathizing with those he is either neglecting or manipulating. This makes the film not an atypical, enjoyable moviegoing experience, so you might find yourself bored at times as I did. But it is sweetly cathartic at the end with Roman coming face-to-face with several of his past misdeeds.
Directed, written and produced by Cristian Mungiu, Graduation echoes another great foreign language film from 2016, The Salesman, where good intentions to help a relative who was sexually assaulted can quickly go awry. In both of these films, there isn’t really a perfectly “right” way the central characters could have reacted in the aftermath of those respective assaults. But as an audience, we get the distinct impression that the characters’ decisions made in Graduation and The Salesman were much more near the wrong.