What are we willing to compromise for our children? Our standard of living? Our freedom? Our integrity? Graduation from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu gives us a glimpse into a man’s anguish when his daughter might miss a chance to study abroad where more opportunities will be available.
Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) is a doctor in a small Transylvanian town. Many years earlier he and his wife opted to stay and help build the new post-Communist nation. But little has changed through the years. His daughter Eliza (Maria Drăguṣ) is about to finish high school and has been accepted to attend university in England. She just needs to do well on her final exams. But the day before the tests, she is assaulted near the school and her arm in injured in the attack. She can’t postpone the tests. Romeo must find ways for her to be able to take the tests—and make sure she passes them, even if the events may make that difficult.
At first, he does what just about any of us would do. He talks to the officials who initially won’t let her take the tests because some people cheat by hiding answers in a cast. But when he navigates that problem, more arise. Can she have more time? Are there ways to be assured she passes. He begins to find connections. The Deputy Mayor needs an organ transplant. Can Romeo move him up the list? The Deputy Mayor collects favors that he can share-possibly even those who score the test? Will Romeo really do whatever it takes to give his daughter this chance?
Mungiu’s films deal with the real-life choices people make and the good motives that may have bad consequences. Sometimes those may be extreme choices, such as abortion (and various choices along the way) in 4 Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, or the cult-like behavior in Beyond the Hills. Even the best of reasons for our choices often lead to results that we regret.
As we see the story unfold, we learn that Romeo has made other compromises in his life. He and his wife are not in a happy marriage. He has a mistress, and perhaps a son. It is just one of the ways he has lived with convenient moral compromises that he sees as acceptable given the realities of his life.
Of course, we all have to make compromises and choices through our lives. Sometimes we feel justified, even if they push the boundaries of what is ethical. As we watch Romeo make choice after choice, each one pushing things a bit more, we wonder if there will be a breaking point. Then too, Eliza has choices to make. Perhaps the choices her father has made through the years are not really what she wants from life. How do we make the choices in our lives? Are many of them made for us, or do we in the end own them ourselves? And how do we live with the results of those choices that may shape our lives for years to come?
Photos courtesy of IFC Films