Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Rocco And His Brothers

Alain Delon, as Rocco
ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (Visconti, 1960)
Milestone Films, Bu-ray, Release Date July 10, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

Fresh off the train from their tiny rural town in southern Italy, matriarch Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) and her four youngest boys are duly awed by their first glimpse of the big city of Milan. Riding a streetcar to visit eldest brother Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), they gape at the bustling urban nightlife: “Look at those shop windows, those lights. It's like daylight!”

Just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, any dreams of Utopian bliss are dispelled the instant mamma Rosaria stumbles into Vincenzo's engagement party, and promptly declares war on her prospective in-laws, including Vincenzo's fiancee Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale in one of her earliest roles). It all sounds like the set up for a comedic clash of cultures, even prompting Vincenzo to quip that his family arrived in town “like an earthquake,” but “Rocco and His Brothers” (1960) descends rapidly and inexorably into a tragedy of operatic proportions.

Director Luchino Visconti stated that where Federico Fellini told a tale of the “Sweet Life (La Dolce Vita)” his movie chronicled “the bitter life” of the Parondi family. He certainly delivered on his promise, or perhaps threat. Though Milan is booming from the country's recent “economic miracle” (one that left the south behind), the Parondi boys won't reap the rewards.

Ostensibly, their troubles begin when prostitute Nadia (Annie Girardot) explodes into their lives, first entering into a tempestuous relationship with the second-oldest brother, Simone (Renato Salvatori), then later with the titular brother, Rocco (Alain Delon). Both men, in very different ways, seek to control Nadia, while she struggles to maintain her autonomy. Like Nadia, Simone and Rocco ultimately sell their bodies as well, both achieving a degree of success in the boxing ring, while each paying a heavy price in the process. Savage passions ultimately pit Simone against Rocco, threatening to tear the Parondi clan apart.

The whole family struggles, though Simone's personal and moral collapse is the most dramatic and unnerving, as he transitions from the family's brightest hope to its blackest sheep, with faithful Rocco gamely trying to redeem him even long after he lurches well beyond the point of redemption. Both Visconti and his co-scripter Suso Cecchi D'Amico attributed Simone's downfall (and that of the other Parondi brothers) to the corruption of the big city and the exploitation of capitalism, but this is a dubious claim.

Simone arrives in Milan as a lazy, entitled, dishonest bully, and then becomes increasingly narcissistic, cruel, and violent. Rocco, described by his younger brothers as “a saint” with an infinite capacity for forgiveness, extends his tolerance exclusively to his own family, demonstrating little empathy for the brutally victimized Nadia, the alleged love of his life. Perhaps the Parondis weren't corrupted by Milan, but boarded the train with their own troubling set of patriarchal old-school “family values” already fully intact.

“Rocco and His Brothers” is a truly beautiful film, even when photographed amidst the squalor of Milan's seediest neighborhoods. Shooting in lustrous, moody black-and-white, the great cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno dazzles from start to finish, from an early overhead still-life portrait of Milan's train station at night to a late tableau of uniformed workers filing into an Alfa Romeo factory after an afternoon break. In between, over nearly three hours, Rotunno's camera basks in soft Lombard sunlight and pierces inky nighttime shadows with equal precision and beauty, helping Visconti to achieve his vision of a neo-realistic film with an epic scope and feel. Oh, yeah, and the Nino Rota score isn't half-bad either. 


Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

The restoration process of “Rocco and His Brothers” was more elaborate than for many films. Parts of the original camera negative had been damaged by fungus, requiring some scenes to be replaced from a contact-printed interpositive. In addition, some scenes were censored after the film's debut at the Venice Film Festival in 1960, and these scenes appear in their unabridged version in this restoration, bringing the film back to its original 177 minute running time. The restoration was funded by Gucci and The Film Foundation, with color correction overseen by the film's cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno.

The diligent restorers appear to have resisted the temptation to buff and polish the image to excess. This high-def transfer showcases a rich, thick grainy look throughout with a remarkable amount of detail visible even in the darkest shots. The black-and-white contrast is sharp and naturalistic throughout. In short, this restoration looks phenomenal.

Audio:
The monoaural track is crisp and consistent. The sound design is fairly straightforward, consisting mostly of the dubbed dialogue (French actor Alain Delon was dubbed by Achille Millo, if you're curious) and Nino Rota's score. I didn't notice any dropoffs or distortions in the soundtrack. Optional English subtitles support the Italian audio.

Extras:
As mentioned above, the film runs 177 minutes, so Milestone has devoted the first of the two Blu-rays in this set exclusively to the film, save for a brief (3 min.) introduction by Martin Scorsese. You can choose to play the movie with or without the intro. The second disc houses all of the other extras.

Most interviews with the children or grandchildren of accomplished filmmakers consist of affectionate remembrances with little in the way of substance. The interview (41 min.) with Caterina D'Amico, daughter of the great screenwriter Suso Cecchi D'Amico, is a noteworthy exception in the sub-genre. D'Amico, a teacher and author, provides a truly impressive level of fine detail in her no-nonsense interview, covering every aspect of the film's genesis, from Visconti's first sketch of the story to her mother's involvement as one of several writers on the project, to the array of influences from the Bible to Thomas Mann to Dostoevsky. She speaks authoritatively about major changes from the structure of the plot in its earliest form to what finally made it to the page and then to the screen. This is one of the best interviews I've ever watched on any disc in quite some time.

The disc also includes a series of shorter interviews (34 min. total) with cast and crew, including Annie Girardot and Claudia Cardinale, with the longest and most substantive segment belonging to writer Suso Cecchi D'Amico.

We also get several Outtakes (6 min. total) and a brief “Before and After” piece (2 min.) on the film's restoration.

Also, as is frequently the case with Milestone releases, you can visit their website for a comprehensive press kit (this one running over 60 pages) for more information on the film and its restoration.

Final Thoughts:
“Rocco and His Brothers” generated great controversy on its initial release, drawing condemnation and censorship from Catholic groups in Italy, and playing in even worse-butchered versions overseas. The controversy may have actually helped the film to box-office success, as it earned big money in Italy and gave Visconti a crucial international breakout that opened new financing opportunities that would shape the rest of his career. The film has also exerted a tremendous influence on generations of subsequent filmmakers, a list that just begins with Martin Scorsese (Simone is certainly a Raging Bull) and Francis Ford Coppola. And as if that wasn't enough, it also provides some of the earliest prominent performances for Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, and Annie Girardot, young actors who would go on to become major stars.

This Milestone release provides a sparkling restoration of this major landmark of Italian cinema, along with a solid collection of supporting extra features, making this one of the most important Blu-ray releases of the year.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Starchild and the Dancing Chicken



MY TOP TEN FILMS
by Christopher S. Long

(This is a re-post and slight re-working of a top ten list I wrote for another site that shall remain nameless. It's been a few years, but I don't think I'd really change my top ten much at all. I kinda like this piece. Hope you do too.)

One obvious common thread in this list is that the films don't feature a lot of what the kids tend to think of as acting in the traditional sense. From the models of Bresson to the somnambulists of Marienbad to the great Bruno S., there's not a whole lot of method in this madness, and they're a pretty buttoned-down bunch overall. This wasn't my intention, but it also won't surprise any of my friends who have long since tired of my complaints about “big” acting. Of course, Jack Nicholson's extra foot pounds of energy per second per second raise the average for everyone else; I'm not so foolish as to be consistent.

Four mid-century French-language films, two Kubricks, two Herzogs, and nothing before the 60s. Ten is a tiny sample and I made no effort to compose a diverse or representative selection. I might find room for a dozen Godards in my Top 100 and just as many documentaries and silent films and, yes, I am aware that not all movies are made in Europe or America. My top ten are simply my favorites, the films that have most insistently seeped off the screen and into my life.



10.  DEAD MAN (Jim Jarmusch, 1996)
Roger Ebert described Neil Young's heavy reverb score as the sound of “a man repeatedly dropping his guitar.” The untitled Track 11 runs over fourteen minutes, and I still vividly remember the time I pulled up to a bend at Badlands National Park and cranked this track up to max volume on my car stereo right at sunset. I timed it perfectly to end just as the upper edge of the sun's disc dipped below the distant hill-line, and for just a moment I had melted into transcendence. Keep dropping that guitar, Neil.

Each viewing convinces me that a movie I originally embraced for the warm friendship between Johnny Depp and the magnificent Gary Farmer  is actually one of the bleakest indictments ever made of America and its legacy of genocide that is so all-encompassing it warps not just the scorched earth of Jarmusch's American West, but even time itself. Depp's William Blake is reliving the same traumatic loop, riding that train to Machine over and over again.

Read my full review here

9.  THE SHINING (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
I have hated movie audiences for all sorts of reasons, but never so passionately as when I had to listen to a room full of hipsters howling their ironic little brains out at the sight of Shelley Duvall freaking out on the stairs of the Overlook. Whether Kubrick tormented it out of her or not, Duvall comes as close to an authentic breakdown on screen as I've ever seen, and I guess it's too much for the young'uns who prefer the simulation over the real deal. These bastards have obviously been around for a long time seeing as Duvall was nominated for one of the inaugural Razzies.

I don't think films are particularly good at being genuinely terrifying, but “The Shining” chills at absolute zero. And I cannot think of a movie sound effect that has embedded itself as deeply into my consciousness as Danny's Big Wheel rumbling  across bare floorboards, then gliding almost silently over carpets, then rumbling, gliding, rumbling as he heads to his unexpected play date.

8.  PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati, 1967)
It took a 70 mm print (or was it 65?) of “Playtime” at the Egyptian Theatre to make me fully appreciate the audacity of this enterprise. Tati risked his personal capital on the construction of the glistening Tativille and then refused to cash in fully on his most bankable asset, M. Hulot. Letting Hulot take a back seat in many scenes to the “no names” in the cast may partially explain the movie's commercial failure, but it was integral to his democratized vision of cinema (and perhaps society). The result is a spatial symphony flawless in its harmonies and deeply empathetic to each lovingly observed actor. The film's wellspring of bonhomie is the perfect counterpoint to my previous two selections. It's also the only movie on my list that frequently arranges large numbers of people in the frame. In the movies as in real life, I tend to avoid crowds, but with Tati as my tour guide I'm willing to step out with the masses.

7.  FATA MORGANA (Werner Herzog, 1971)
How neglected is this Werner Herzog masterpiece? It is currently only available in Region 1 as a “Bonus Disc” on Anchor Bay's decade-old release of “Lessons of Darkness.” Nice bonus.

Herzog touched down in the desert with a science-fiction script in hand and discarded the pages by the end of day one. What he scavenged from the Sahara instead was a menagerie of people, animals, mirages, and heat-rippled panoramas that defies categorization. Call it an essay, call it poetry, call it a collage, call it a documentary if you really want to piss off the director, but “Fata Morgana” is simply unique. Many other filmmakers have directed landscapes, but Herzog's sinuous tracking shots alongside desert dunes (some painstakingly hand-sculpted by his gonzo crew) are absolutely breathtaking. And how can you beat hearing both Leonard Cohen and Blind Faith in a Herzog movie?
 
“Fata Morgana” has to be appreciated on a scene-by-scene basis. Perhaps my favorite is the unspeakably strange studio session at a brothel in which a goggled pimp and the madam play drums and piano, respectively, while the pimp belts out an indecipherable tune that has to be one of the most haunting sounds ever produced by a human being. Herzog has a knack for compositions that are simultaneously miserablist and sublime, and... just watch it.

6.  EDVARD MUNCH (Peter Watkins, 1974)
I am no artist, but I am convinced that “Edvard Munch” is the greatest film ever made about the creative process, primarily depicted here as “working your ass off.” Watching Munch build layers of paint, scrape frantically at his canvas, and shift restlessly from one medium to the next allows us to witness an artist reporting for duty each day and pouring in maximum effort, rather than a visionary who waits for the great epiphany that has marked the cheap turning point in far too many artist biopics.

Peter Watkins's pseudo-documentary style is infinitely pliable, and his free-floating, semi-omniscient perspective incorporates virtually any technique necessary to add context and to bore to the heart of the matter. I could just as easily have selected his magisterial “La Commune” (2000) for the same reasons, but “Edvard Munch” was my first exposure to Watkins, a man to whom we should be building monuments (but not monoforms).


5.  AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (Robert Bresson, 1966)
Tilda Swinton recently stated that the greatest performance of all-time was delivered by the title donkey(s) of this ferocious Bresson gem, and who I am to argue with the Queen? As Swinton says, this graceful, suffering, blank-eyed donkey is a “portal for the audience to project whatever they need to” and he is surely the ultimate Bressonian model. If you see nothing in Balthazar's gaze, it might be because you're looking at your own reflection. Debates over Bresson's religious beliefs will always be with us, but for me “Balthazar” joins “2001” as one of the few spiritual films for the atheist viewer. Balthazar kneeling in a field with a flock of sheep milling about him, their bells chiming a chorus ... I weep openly. So did most of the class I screened it for.

Read my full review here.

4.  LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (Alain Resnais, 1961)
I have as many theories about “Marienbad” as anyone else does, but I would hate for any of them to be true. Appreciate this grand and elaborate puzzle for its pieces, not for the way they snap together. On my first several tours through “Marienbad” (which is not set in Marienbad; that was last year) I grooved on the poker-faced gloom, but repeat viewings have made it clear just how playful and occasionally funny the movie is. I can't believe how long it took me to spot Hitch's cameo.
I don't know which Alain deserves the most credit (director Resnais or author Robbe-Grillet) for this mesmerizing study in gestures and surfaces, but I wish to thank them both. As well as the extraordinary actress Delphine Seyrig who has the distinction of starring in my fourth favorite film of all-time...

3.  JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
...as well as my third. What can I say about the Battleship Dielman, the unsinkable vanguard of the cinematic fleet? Jeanne Dielman (Seyrig) is eternal and immutable, born to be a .gif forever peeling potatoes and breading cutlets. She is an epic figure with such a radiant presence that all the other celluloid heroes huddle in her shadow. Director Chantal Akerman transforms the domestic space into something epic. My list is populated with the most memorable sets and locations in film history: The Overlook, Tativille, the hotel in “Marienbad,” but there is no movie space I know better than Jeanne's kitchen. I can close my eyes and picture the exact positions of the chair, table, coffeepot, bottle of dishwashing detergent, and scrub brush hanging off the tile wall.

Three and a half hours of watching Jeanne do housework is nowhere near enough. “Jeanne Dielman” may be a badge of honor film to prove one's devotion to the Church of Cinema, but it needs to be stressed just how much damn fun this movie is.  I cannot remember what movies were like before I saw it.

2.  STROSZEK (Herzog, 1977)
I suspect that Bruno S. was a savvier actor than he is generally given credit for, but if he was “only” playing himself, then what a self! It is difficult to pick his finest moment: perhaps the moment where he holds up a home-made sculpture that he describes a schematic of his brain, his long soulful look after sharing his woes with a stranger in a diner, or his quiet contemplation of newborns in a hospital ward. I'll go with this scene where he stages an impromptu glockenspiel performance in an alleyway. Bruno S. gets my vote for greatest performance of all time (OK, so I'm arguing with Ms. Swinton just a little) and now I find myself pondering the happy possibilities of a film starring Jeanne Dielman and Bruno Stroszek... in Vegas! But I digress.

My top two films also feature what I consider to be the two greatest endings ever. I mentioned Herzog's ability to meld the miserablist with the sublime and there is no more perfect manifestation of this than the dancing chicken and his penny arcade. Herzog says it is his greatest sequence, and he is indisputably correct though also typically modest; it is simply the greatest sequence ever filmed. Armies of directors and their special effects teams have squandered billions of dollars representing the end of the world, but nobody has ever topped the Apocalyptic Chicken strutting to "Old Lost John."

1.  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Kubrick, 1968)
There is a narrow highway from Gunnison, CO that crawls up a mountain to the ski resort of Crested Butte. If you drive it at night, you'll see posts with reflectors on both sides of the road, helpfully situated to prevent you from plunging off a cliff. If you crank up “Jupiter and Beyond” on your car stereo, you can pretend you're plunging through the Star Gate as you whiz past each pulsating marker. If your experience is similar to mine, all that will be waiting for you on the other side is a watered down margarita and a futon in your friend's loft, but evolution's always been a crap shoot. And at 14,000 feet, it doesn't take much alcohol to feel like a Star Child. It's the ultimate trip.

I think about “2001” at some point every single day, and that's not true of any other movie. I have seen it more than fifty times, and plan to see that many times more if I get the chance. (Update: Make that more than seventy times now.)

 



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Manila In The Claws Of Light


MANILA IN THE CLAWS OF LIGHT (Brocka, 1975)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date June 12, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

Many films about people moving from the country to the big city detail the loss of innocence as the dream of a shining land of opportunity yields to a grim reality. Julio Madiaga (Rafael Roco Jr.) arrives in Manila with no such delusions. His eyes are already wide open to potential horror as he has come to search for his girlfriend Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who he suspects has been lured into a sex trafficking ring. Already expecting to find a nightmare, what Julio discovers in Manila turns out to be even worse.

In “Manila, In The Claws of Light” (1975), director Lino Brocka, adapting (along with screenwriter Clodualdo Del Mundo Jr.) a novel by Edgardo Reyes, depicts the capital city of The Philippines as a broken society designed to exploit and ultimately destroy the working class. Julio risks life and limb working in construction for two and a half pesos a day, with his supervisor skimming almost half his wages in the process. Julio's eventual turn to the sex trade himself is entirely understandable, though it brings him just as much misery. In a country ruled by the iron-fisted martial law of dictator and kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos, there is nowhere to turn for justice, certainly not to a corrupt police force.

Constantly seekingr his lost Ligaya, Julio at least finds some sympathy from his co-workers, who Brocka depicts as generous and decent, if perhaps a bit misguided. One dreamer argues the merits of the big city over the country, observing that life might be tough here, but at least you have a chance to win the jackpot. Maybe, just maybe someday. In a sense, Julio agrees, though the only prize he cares about is Ligaya, and he will suffer any indignity as long as the chance to find and rescue her remains alive.

Brocka had begun his film-making career directing more commercially-oriented soap operas, but after a brief self-imposed hiatus, he returned to cinema with the goal of making more socially engaged work. “Manila” was not his first success on this front, but it provided an international breakout that established Brocka as one of the preeminent voices of Filipino cinema. Today,the film is generally regarded as his masterpiece and perhaps even the greatest Filipino film of its time, though its fair to say that the majority of Western critics making such an assessment haven't seen enough Filipino cinema to really know. 


Like most of Brocka's films, the low-budget “Manila” is usually described with terms such as “realism” and “naturalism” which are both apt, but the film indulges in plenty of impressionistic touches, including the numerous flashbacks to Julio's nostalgia-tinged remembrances of more innocent times back home with Ligaya. The film's exquisitely rendered nighttime sequences in Manila also offer a striking visual and tonal contrast to the daytime shots, though the city is equally menacing at all times.

Roco was an amateur actor who Brocka found in a rehab center (at least according the documentary included on this disc) and his quiet, unassuming performance renders Julio a palpable and sympathetic figure, making it all the more painful to watch his grueling trudge along his own Via Dolorosa. Viewers will figure out early that the film isn't blazing a trail to a happy place, but the ending is still startling and unforgettable.


Video:
The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This restoration is another product of The World Cinema Project, headlined by Martin Scorsese.

From the Criterion booklet: “This work was restored in 2013 by the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the Cineteca di Bologna/L'immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project, LVN, Cinema Artists Philippines, and cinematographer Mike De Leon. This restoration was funded by Doha Film Institute. Supervised by De Leon, this digital transfer was created in 4K resolution from the 35 mm original camera negative... Because of color decay in the negative, De Leon guided the grading phase and validated the color using a positive print as a reference.”

The decayed state of the negative presented numerous challenges to restorers, but the strong final product is a testament to their hard labor. A few shots, especially in the beginning, look a bit soft and lacking in detail, but this is only an occasional problem. Colors are bright though not gaudy, and it appears that restorers resisted the urge to “overcorrect” any degraded elements. You see a few scratches and other signs of damage, but it all has an authentic, naturalistic look.

Audio:
The linear PCM Mono track isn't the most robust you've ever heard, and some of the dialogue and music sounds a bit thin or tinny at times, but it's not a problem. Optional English subtitles support the Tagalog dialogue.

Extras:
Since this restoration is associated with The World Cinema Project, Martin Scorsese provides a brief intro (2 min.) about the film and Brocka.

“Manila... A Filipino Film” is a 1975 documentary (23 min.) by filmmaker Mike De Leon (the cinematographer on “Manila”). This consists of some on-set footage as well as interview with Brocka and the cast.

“Signed: Lino Brocka” is a 1987 documentary (83 min.) by Christian Blackwood which consist mostly of Brocka either at work or just talking to the director about his career. He's an electric personality and it's a thrill to get to hear so much from him, especially considering Brocka would die in a car accident just four years later.

In “Challenging the Viewer” (19 min.) critic and filmmaker Tony Rayns discusses Brocka's early career (I had no idea he was a Mormon!) and then delves into the “Manila” adaptation in some detail.

The slim fold-out booklet includes an essay by film scholar Jose B. Capino.

Final Thoughts:
This is the second Brocka film released by Criterion in the past few years after “Insiang” (1976) was included as part of the “Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project 2”box set last year. It's great to see Brocka's signature film receive a stand-alone release with ample extras to support the film. I hope many more Filipino films will join the collection in the near future. “Perfumed Nightmare” could sure use the deluxe treatment.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Graduation


GRADUATION (Mungiu, 2016)
Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, Release Date May 22, 2018
Review by Christopher S. Long

At first, I was tempted to describe writer/director Cristian Mungiu's “Graduation” (2016) as a naturalistic film that unfolds at a leisurely pace while observing the details of the everyday life in modern Romania. Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), the film's protagonist, wants to make sure his daughter Eliza (Maria Dragus) doesn't lose her upcoming scholarship to Cambridge, which he views as a crucial chance for her to escape Romania for a land of better opportunities. Via numerous long takes, he spends a lot of time driving around, speaking to various bureaucrats, and running chores.

It's so realistic it's practically a documentary... except for the fact that the melodramatic complications pile up as rapidly as in a soap opera. First, Eliza is sexually assaulted on her way to school just before taking her final exams, prompting the good doctor to call in some favors on his daughter's behalf. But that's just the start of it. In an approximately fifteen minute sequence in the middle of the film (spoiler alert, if you're the sort that cares), Eliza discovers (or reveals that she already knows about) Romeo's affair with a patient, Romeo's ailing mother has a grave medical scare, his wife kicks him out of their home, and law enforcement shows up out of he blue to investigate some of Romeo's previously mentioned dealings to help Eliza. And then things start getting really complicated, but still with plenty of long takes.

“Graduation” is structured around other contrasts as well. Romeo views himself as a morally righteous old-schooler nobly willing to sacrifice his virtue to navigate a corrupt bureaucracy and win his daughter a better future. Yet, one of the first things we learn about Romeo is that he's having an affair which also may or may not explain the fact that this ostensibly quiet film begins with the sound of shattered glass when a rock is hurled through the Aldea family's apartment window. A friend of Romeo's also reminds him of the time a man helped get them out of military service when they were teenagers, and how said man could really use a new liver right now and maybe the doctor could look into helping with that.

Mungiu doesn't overtly inject any sense of moral judgment on the proceedings, preferring simply to observe his characters and their circumstances closely, seemingly with a mixture of amusement and bemusement at the convoluted social structures these strange human creatures have built for themselves. The film never collapses into despair, however, no matter how much the noose tightens around Romeo's neck. This is due in large part to the fact that Romeo balances hard-learned cynicism with the still smoldering ashes of the optimism that led him to come back to Romania many years before. He bemoans the inability of his generation to make any real changes, but retains faith that his daughter's might still be able to pull off the job. He even defends the nosy investigators who try to bully him: “They're young. Maybe they'll make things better.” Romeo doesn't sound too convinced, but maybe surely beats a definite no. 


Video:
The film is presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Nothing much to say here. “Graduation” is a recent film shot digitally and immaculately preserved in this 1080p transfer from Criterion. Looks great, as you'd expect.

Audio:
The film is presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround audio mix. The lossless sound is flawless and helps convey the sense of space in many of the film's frequently visited locations. Mungiu rarely uses non-diegetic music in his films, but Romeo listens to classical music in the car, and that is treated well in this surround mix. Optional English subtitles support the Romanian audio.

Extras:
Criterion hasn't packed this Blu-ray release with extras, but they've offered a few interesting features.

An interview with the director (2018, 29 min.) is recorded specifically for Criterion. Mungiu speaks in general about what motivated him to make the film, but doesn't delve too deeply into detail. It's great to hear from Mungiu, but there's not much revealing information here.

The disc also includes the Cannes Film Festival press Conference (2016, 42 min.) in which director and cast field questions about the film that netter Mungiu a Palme d'or for Best Director (shared with Olivier Assayas). These press conferences are seldom riveting enough to watch in their entirety, but, hey, you can watch it in pieces at your leisure.

We also get Deleted Scenes (7 scenes, 8 min. total) and a Trailer (2 min.)

The slim insert booklet features an essay by film critic Bilge Ebiri.

Final Thoughts:
“Graduation” is only Mungiu's second solo feature film since his breakout hit “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” ten years ago. I don't think it matches the high standard set by that film, but it's a potent reminder that Romania continues to produce some of the best films of the 21st century.