4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
2008, NR, 113 min. Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Starring Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean, Ion Sapdaru, Teodor Corban, Tania Popa, Cerasela Iosifescu.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Feb. 22, 2008
Romania in 1987 was a real low point for us as a species. The revolution that would eventually topple President Nicolae Ceauşescu and bring about the first chirpings of democracy was still two long years away; in the meantime, the country was the portrait of a post-Stalinist police state, with enormous, lifeless, gray edifices passing for architecture; a convoluted system of identity cards and social paranoia passing for citizenship; and assembly-line institutions passing for universities spitting out beige-clad drones passing for students. In other words, Romania in 1987 was hell, only much, much colder. Now, imagine living in hell and trying to arrange an illegal abortion, and you’ve got 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Mungiu’s bleak, unrelenting Palme d’Or winner from last year’s Cannes Film Festival that will make you think twice about ever having sex in a communist country again. Vasiliu plays Gabita, a pregnant college student with an air of impassive victimhood about her, like she’s long since given up belief in her own free will. When we first meet her, she’s pacing nervously around her cluttered dorm room, smoking a cigarette, and looking like a child lost in a grocery store. Luckily for her, she’s got Otilia (Marinca), her roommate, who is possessed of enough strength and common sense for the both of them. Over the film’s two hours, Otilia lies, begs, manipulates, dodges suspicious policemen and hotel employees, meets with intimidating back-alley “doctors,” and does much, much worse for the sake of a friend whose naivete and half-truths are conspiring to make a terrible situation untenable, even life-threatening (past the three-month mark, abortion in Cold War Romania was a capital offense, and prior to that abortions were virtually impossible to obtain legally). Working from his own script, Mungiu shoots 4 Months in stark, unedited single takes – some lasting upward of 10 minutes – that eliminate the distance between film and audience and trap viewers in Gabita and Otilia’s reality, with no hope of escape or even respite. It’s face-down-in-the-muck filmmaking at its most immediate and unapologetic, stripped of all artistic affectation and metaphor. It’s also not a little bit difficult to watch. Mungiu never flinches from the cold realities that attend back-alley abortions (a scene in which Gabita’s “caregiver,” Mr. Bebe, pulls from his case the rubber gloves, syringes, tubes, and other tools necessary to his trade is almost unbearable in its matter-of-factness); nor is he interested in easy definitions of heroism or morality. All of which makes 4 Months a curious filmgoing experience: Virtuosic, assured, and possessed of undeniable aesthetic force, it’s also hard not to turn away from.