January 30, 2008

REVIEW: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (A)

Background: The "New Wave" of Romanian cinema was officially embraced last May when Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I haven't seen either 12:08 to Bucharest or The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, so my first foray is Mungiu's horrific feature on abortion in the darkest days of Communist Romania. A fixture on loads of critics' Top Ten of 2007 lists, the film stars Anamaria Marinca (Youth Without Youth), Laura Vasiliu, and Vlad Ivanov. Filmed primarily in Bucharest, 4 Months is based on a true story told to Mungiu and has most recently been buzzed about for having been snubbed for the short list for this year's Oscars.

Synopsis: In Communist Romania circa 1987, Gabita (Vasiliu) and Otilia (Marinca) are university roommates and best friends. Gabita is accidentally pregnant, but abortion is outlawed under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime. In an environment of ID cards and harsh criminal sentencing, such a procedure is hardly easy to get away with. Nevertheless, Otilia agrees to help Gabita seek an illegal abortion from a black market "professional" named Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). Having borrowed money to pay for the steep expenses, Otilia reserves a hotel room in Bucharest for the weekend and escorts Bebe through the hotel to the room where Gabita is nervously waiting. The procedure is simple; the terms are not. At this point we're witness to some extremely unsettling situations, to say the least. His work done, Bebe leaves, but so does Otilia, who has promised her boyfriend she will visit for his mother's birthday. While at their flat, neither we nor Otilia knows what's happening with Gabita, who is locked in the hotel room and won't answer the phone. Panicked, Otilia returns to the hotel to check in on Gabita. Cue second nightmarish scene. Otilia has one last task, and it requires her to navigate the dark streets of Bucharest. Remind me never, ever to walk those terrifying streets.

I Loved:
+ The amazing, absorbing long takes - they were incredibly natural.
+ The lack of a soundtrack.
+ The simplicity of the story - this is where other directors would misstep and try to add characters or plot lines that are totally unnecessary.

I Liked:
+ The excellent acting by Anamaria Marinca and Vlad Ivanov.

I Disliked:
- The shakiness of the camera work when Otilia is running through the streets. Effective in making me even more frightened, but nevertheless unenjoyable.
- Laura Vasiliu, only when her character was whiny and lying.

I Hated:
- Squirming through two of the most uncomfortable scenes of the last few years.

Writing - 10
Acting - 9
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 48/50= 96% = A

Last Word:"Unflinching" is the best word I can use to described 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, one of the most disturbing movies in recent memory - and one of the best of 2007. I can only recommend it, however, with the disclaimer that it belongs in the small (but growing) group of recent films with scenes that sear your memory - and not in a good way. The Passion of the Christ, Cache, and Eastern Promises come to mind as well. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not pro-choice or pro-life, it's just there - raw, real, and right in your face. We intimately experience the horrific measures that women go through when seeking illegal abortions, and we intimately witness the horrors of abortion itself. I haven't seen any of Cristian Mungiu's other movies, but I was very, very impressed with this. It's been a few days and I still don't know if I can call it "good" or say that I "liked" it - that would send a strange message. It's masterfully done and has given me some new insights about stirring subjects - certainly abortion, but also communism, friendship, and Romanian culture. And new insights, I should emphasize, are why I go to the movies in the first place.


  1. Your comment about Gabita reminded me how much I disliked that character. The actress was fine, but I just wanted to grab the character and shake her.

    The director was wise to have Otilia be the hero, even though it was not her abortion. Had the movie been all about Gabita, I don't think I would've sympathized at all and I wouldn't have liked the movie.

  2. Great point about sympathizing - Gabita was highly annoying in several scenes. I understand the desperation of the situation, but Otilia showed that you can remain somewhat level-headed.


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