4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) dir. Christian Mungiu
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu and Vlad Ivanov
Guest review by Blair Stewart
‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ is a controversial work more talked about than seen. Despite being the surprise, underdog winner of the Palme D'Or this year, it was a conspicuously absurd omission from the Best Foreign Language Shortlist for this year’s Oscar nominations (that's right, it didn't even make the 'shortlist'). A bitter condemnation of life in Romania during the totalitarian reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, Christian Mungiu’s sophomore effort is a rattling experience.
It’s 1987 and we’re placed in an unnamed shithole of a city under the blanket of Communist misrule. For 12 hours we observe the actions of a student, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), as she searches for a way to find her pregnant roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) an abortion. With Romanian society in the grip of Ceausescu’s ‘Golden Age’, and abortions illegal, it becomes a Sisyphean task. From black market wheedling, surveillance and suffocating questioning from all facets, Otilia is forced to perform all the necessary tasks of attending to her weak friend. The question of pro-choice or pro-life is mute as the decision has already been made. What we witness is the consequences. The camera follows Otilia through underlit hotel rooms and various decrepit backalleys. Otilia meets a sordid cast of characters from the callow, opportunistic abortionist, to an upper-caste family simmering with tension at the ring of the telephone. It’s all well beyond loyalty to clean up Gabita’s mess.
The director’s presentation of the dilemma is like a rigid Dogma exercise. Mungiu keeps the camera at eye level, uses one shot for each scene, refrains from using music, and exclusively uses natural light (often plunging the audience into total darkness). It builds up to a sequence when the protagonist has to perform one last crucial task, the realism of which is worthy of the quiet terror throughout the entire ‘No Country for Old Men’.
In the role of the ‘hero’, Anamaria Marinca is fantastic – her guarded face projects the quiet pain of being lower-class and powerless in a corrupt Communist state. Though a minor issue is perhaps the extreme ‘Herzogian’ degree of hardship Otilia is forced to endure. With the entire universe conspiring against her, at times it actually strains the film’s credibility.
Some critics have declared a ‘Romanian New Wave’ based on the success thias film and his fellow countrymen Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and Corneliu Poromboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest”. I’m eager to seek out the results of this burgeoning movement.
A warning for the squeamish, if you are uncomfortable with the subject matter of abortion this is a realistic representation, proceed cautiously. I highly recommend this film.