4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Romania; 114 min.)


directed by: Cristian Mungiu
starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean
4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile
 

Bruce says: "4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS paints a vivid picture of what life in Romania was like in 1987. Covering a period of about twenty four hours, the bleakness of Ceausescu’s Romania is craftily conveyed by superb storytelling and a moody, dull-finished cinematographic style (cinematographer Oleg Mutu also shot THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU). Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasili) are roommates in a university dormitory. Gabita is pregnant and Otilia has offered handholding services to help Gabita get through the danger zones. First, abortion is highly illegal in Catholic, Communist Romania. Second, Gabita is further along in her pregnancy than she has admitted.

"The film is not about Gabita as one would expect. It is strictly about Otilia and what she experience’s on the day of the abortion. In early morning Otilia purchases cigarettes on the black market where it seems most dormitory supplies are traded. As we learn through the course of events almost every exchange in Ceausescu’s Communist regime operates on some level of black marketing; abortion is no exception. Because Gabita is so emotionally dysfunctional, Otilia is stuck with getting the hotel room where the abortion will be conducted, meeting the abortionist at a designated locale, and providing financial and moral support. As the drama unfolds there is enough tension and suspense to rival most thrillers. Otilia also has to cope with Adi (Alexandru Potocean), her boyfriend who insists that she attend his mother’s birthday party later in the day.

"One is never sure where the film is going and what might happen next. We know from the beginning that all is not likely to turn out well – the deck is simply too well stacked against the two young women. The scenes in the hotel are the most stressful. The abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) is sleazy and unscrupulous, exactly what one would expect. When he discovers how far along Gabita is in her pregnancy he balks at the agreed-upon price and blackmails the women. Otilia has already borrowed money from all her available sources and Gabita is too shut down to function effectively.

"As promised, Otilia slips away from the hotel room and shows up at the birthday party. Her uncharacteristic taciturn persona raises all sorts of questions from Adi. Adi’s family is clearly from a different class than Otilia. His parent’s friends’ party banter makes succinct points about class structure and institutional complicities with the communist regime. The birthday guests are condescending and rude to Otilia while remaining unaware of their behavior.

"When Otilia returns to the hotel, things have not gone as expected. What is not apparent until the end of the film is that 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS, in addition to being a nail biting drama, is also a strange blend of black comedy, a comedy of manners and a brilliant essay on friendship. Therein lies the genius of director Cristian Mungiu. 5 cats

"4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival"

 
Michael says: "After the rousing reception this film has gotten on the Festival circuit, including rave reviews from Bruce and Chris in Toronto last September, and the subsequent controversy at it’s lack of an Oscar nomination, I’ve been looking forward to catching up with 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS. I haven’t been caught up in the Romanian film invasion the way many others have, but this film sure delivers. Filmmaker Cristian Mungiu creates a film of exquisite tension as we follow two friends carefully plan an illegal abortion that could land them into some serious trouble. The film takes place during the 1980’s before Romania threw off its communist regime. There is a feeling of paranoia that is not all that unrealistic given the time and the subject matter. What I like most about the film is that it’s not a cautionary tale throwing horror after horror on the screen to show young women how bad things can go wrong when deciding to have an abortion, but rather a tale of realism; a tale of a time period where the underlying statement is, “This is how it was. This was happening every single day.” It’s an incredibly strong statement from Mungiu, who also wrote the screenplay. His writing skills are evident throughout, especially during a particularly painful dinner party that unfolds nearly in real time and is excruciating to sit through. In that scene he conveys the frustration and trapped feeling that Otilia feels at her boyfriend’s mothers birthday. The scene immediately following when Otilia tells her boyfriend why she can’t stay is also masterful in its depiction of emotional sensitivity and lack thereof.

"Young actress Anamaria Marinca is superb as Otilia, thrown into a nearly untenable situation due to her friend. Faced with impossible decisions all around her, largely due to the fear and uncertainty of her pregnant friend, she goes the extra mile (or 10) to get things done. Mungiu and cinematographer Oleg Mutu (who also shot THE DEATH OF MISTER LAZARESCU) paint a stark visual picture of that time with harsh lighting, deep shadows and effective long shots. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS hits with a powerful impact that is felt for days afterwards. 5 cats."

 
Jason says: "4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND TWO DAYS manages something tricky: It handles its touchy subject matter in a way that is dispassionate but not cold. It likely won't make very many people change their opinions on abortion; I'm not even sure whether it would tend to push someone toward moderation or extremism. What's interesting about the film is less the activity at its center than the way filmmaker Christian Mungiu tells his story and what can be deduced about its participants.

"Though Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is the university student looking to terminate her pregnancy, we mainly follow Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), the friend and roommate who seems to be handling the arrangements. As the film opens, we see her making the rounds of their dorm, borrowing money and collecting items from the thriving black market . Then it's downtown to book the hotel room - no easy trick in 1980s Romania - and meet Domnu' Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the 'doctor,' who seizes on the unusual way Otilia and Gabita are handling things to demand more and different payment. Meanwhile, Otilia is trying to keep a dinner date with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) at his mother's birthday party.

"What makes 4 WEEKS extraordinary is how Mungiu does such a good job giving each moment of his film equal weight. There are no music cues used to tell the audience that something is important, and the cinematography consists almost entirely of extended medium shots of Otilia; we follow her closely but don't zoom in to examine her face at specific moments. Indeed, the only time we spend much time away from her is during a scene that we might weight too heavily if we had a front-row seat. Whatever the filmmaker thinks about what's going on, he's taking great care not to impress that on the audience. He and we are just observing.

"Just because he's not using a lot of cinematic tricks to highlight the drama doesn't mean that the film proceeds from start to finish with a completely level tone. It is, in its matter-of-fact way, one of the most tension-filled movies in recent memory; we're reminded early on that abortion is illegal and punished harshly in this time and place (thus the need for it to take place in a hotel room, rather than a hospital or clinic). Mungiu finds several different ways to make the audience nervous. There's the meeting between Otilia, Gabita, and Domnu' where each knows they have the ability to ruin the other, though Domnu' quickly grabs the upper hand; there's the Otilia walking around the city at night, where the audience can't help but think what a disaster it would be to get caught; there's Otilia trapped at Adi's dinner table while a phone nobody answers rings, perhaps with news from Gabita. That scene in particular is fantastic in how it tortures the audience with seemingly benign activity.

"That's also the scene where we really get the full measure of what a fine performance Anamaria Marinca is turning in. We've already seen Otilia get serious after being introduced to her as cheerful and seemingly casual about things; in this scene, we see her trying to put up a cheerful, polite front even though she's clearly worried about Gabita. It's also where we learn about her, though, saying she's from the country and studying 'tech' in part because she doesn't particularly want to stay there, so on top of everything else we see her getting uncomfortable at the somewhat condescending attitude Adi's educated, prosperous family has. The way the movie is shot doesn't give Marinca any place to be other than excellent, but she handles the challenge with aplomb.

"Laura Vasiliu's role is smaller, though central, and her performance is interesting too. Gabita is timid, deferring to Otilia, and we're inclined to feel sorry for her; after all, she's in a rough position with no easy way out that she doesn't seem equipped to handle. Vasilu remembers that helpless isn't always cute, though, and there are times we feel as though Gabita is abusing the privilege of having a friend as good as Otilia - the weak half of the relationship controlling the strong one. Other times she seems justifiably bitter and angry at Otilia.

"It's not a perfect friendship, but it's not the one-sided one it may seem like; Otilia needs someone to trust her nearly as much as Gabita needs someone to lean on. In the end, that's what this movie is really about - not abortion or communism, but the universal need for someone to help you through them."