4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS A
Romania (113 mi) 2007 ‘Scope d: Cristian Mungiu
A reflection of life in Romania under the Ceauşescu era, set in 1987, this is the story of a young girl’s attempts to obtain a cheap abortion on the black market, where every aspect of society is layered in corruption and lies, revealing a society where truth has little value, where learning to operate through the lies is like making your way through a minefield, where some lucky ones may get through, but only by accident. Meanwhile, many people’s lives are routinely trampled over by the societal indifference to other people’s problems. While it has a similar scenario as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), both films shot by Oleg Mutu using a fluid in-your-face, hand-held camera, intensely following the lives of a few people over the course of a few hours, this actually has a greater dramatic impact and could easily be called one day in the life of a decent person in an indecent society. Many who watch this film will wonder what all the fuss is about, why it was awarded the Palme D’Or at Cannes as the Festival winner this year, believing it is a “good” but not a great film, as it can be pretty slow going for awhile, actually plodding along at times, where the final effect accumulates much of its power through misdirection, by “not” being what we expect. The girl who gets pregnant, Găbiţa (Laura Vasiliu) and her college dorm roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), are two fairly ordinary girls who go about their business thinking this day is like any other day. Only through the accumulation of detail, and one brilliant performance from the best friend do we come to appreciate just how many different levels this film is operating on, not the least of which is the abortion itself, which is captured in its entirety, seen as a despicable act that becomes a catalyst of something that takes on a life of its own in this film.
Few will be impressed by the drab, bleached out colors, or by the use of ‘Scope, which wasn’t used to any particular effect except perhaps in a dinner sequence, squeezing many people all into one shot, where we could follow several people’s gestures and body language all at the same time, actually becoming one of the turning points of the film, but other than that, the garbage and litter that seemed etched into every street scene was simply expanded to more of it. Most of the film takes place inside cramped rooms, occasionally opening to the world outside, but only briefly. What is actually probed is not any external condition that a camera could beautify or dramatize, but the internalized feelings of one remarkable character, allowing the camera to linger and gaze, giving the audience the full impact of the moment, which happens repeatedly throughout the film. Oftentimes the other character isn’t even seen at all, only heard, but there are some extraordinary conversations in this film, all written by the director. Two in particular that stand out are what follows the hushed silence moments right after the abortionist exits and also the previously mentioned dinner sequence which was simply a phenomenal scene, perfectly balancing both the interior and exterior worlds, rivaling some of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s signature shots in several of his films, where the opening of Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua) (1998) comes to mind. Without using a musical soundtrack, but presented through a grim, realist style, this may take us back to Kieslowski’s gritty, down to earth world of moral anxiety, where individual choices were forced up against the wall of authoritarian inflexibility, where all choices were impossible.
This is one of the first Eastern European films to challenge the entrenched patriarchal hierarchy. In the film, the remedy for a specifically female problem (abortion) doesn't exist outside the black market, only harsh punishments and consequences, where there are no such consequences designed for the male who contributed to the pregnancy. But this only opens up the view of inequity in the film, which becomes less about the woman who has the abortion and more about the singular developing psychological outrage of her friend, who is blindsided by the blasé attitude of indifference from her girlfriend, who learns to cringe at the crudeness of the thoughts coming out of her own boyfriend and his family, intelligent yet ordinary people who have been conditioned to accept the prevailing order. This film has a throbbing sense of dramatic urgency, where abortion is seen as not only emblematic of an entire ineffectual system where individualized needs are viewed as outlawed, subject to serious criminal penalties, where women are forced to expose and humiliate themselves to underhanded black market profiteers, but it becomes a full-fledged feminist treatise on the gulf that separates the sexes, dramatically revealing in excruciatingly real terms just how systematically entrenched in backwards thinking men (and many women) remain, still blindly incapable and perhaps unwilling to understand their own culpability in creating and maintaining insufferable conditions for humans to endure, where suppressing the rights of others is typically a product of historically ingrained masculine ideology.