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  4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu, Alexandra Potoceanu

Directed by: Cristian Mungiu

Produced by: Oleg Mutu, Cristian Mungiu

Written by: Cristian Mungiu

Distributor: IFC films


As seen at AFI Fest 2007:

     Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days beautifully recalls the tradition of cinema verite employed by the participants of the French New Wave, stripping itself down to the bare essentials of filmmaking and crafting a product of frustrated social significance out of them. On the exterior, there is very little to the movie, but its effortlessness is supremely deceiving. Mungiu carefully places every frame of film and displays a stunning emotional prowess over the material—in fact, he only shot one scene that didn’t make the final cut—and creates a work that is impossible not to be affected by. He may not be as technically innovative as Godard or Truffaut were in their day, but he is every bit as much concerned with the vitality of grassroots cinema.

     The film takes place in 1987 Communist-ruled Romania. Mungiu depicts the influence of the totalitarian government in a very even-handed manner, most prominently displaying the practical ways in which ordinary people are affected by the oppressive State (such as having to buy imported cigarettes on the Black Market). The protagonist is Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) who, the viewer soon learns, has decided to aid in the illegal abortion of her college-roommate Gabita’s (Laura Vasiliu) unborn child. Spearheading the operation due to Gabita’s noticeable fear and despair, Otilia finds a hotel room for the procedure to be conducted in, meets with the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov), and ensures that no one catches them in the process. She is not fearless, but never shows her true vulnerability, realizing that peoples’ lives are in her hands and that she has accepted responsibility in the situation.

     Despite being labeled “the Abortion Movie” ever since it won the Palme d’Or this year at the Cannes Film Festival, the picture makes very few comments on the morality of the practice of abortion itself. Mungiu openly acknowledges the barbarism of the procedure through the film (as seen in a long take, which prominently shows the aborted fetus in the foreground), but understands that it is not his place to make any type of contemporary political statement on the issue. He merely depicts a set of real people and asks the viewer to consider the actions of these people when they are thrust into an extraordinary situation. There are no clearly defined heroes or villains in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, just characters responding to the events that arise in their lives. Whether Gabita, Otilia, the abortionist, or the government is to blame for Gabita’s terminated pregnancy is the decision of the audience alone.

     Whatever conclusion one reaches about the justness of the abortion by the end of the film (if this conclusion is relevant to one’s impression at all), one will be fittingly shaken by Mungiu’s harrowing depiction of the events in the film. He sticks to uncompromisingly long, fixed takes in nearly every scene, carefully framing each shot. All at once, the viewer forgets that Mungiu is manipulating what is onscreen and never forgets the genius of his work. A sequence of very few shots in which the abortionist describes the procedure and its severity, particularly because of the revealed true age of Gabita’s child, functions powerfully in this regard. As much as we might like to trivialize the abortionist’s character to make the story easier to swallow, Mungiu doesn’t allow us to. The abortionist, called Mr. Bebe, is a human being who is risking just as much as Gabita thinks that she is in conducting the procedure: a life, a family, and a sense freedom from the oppressive government. (Abortion in Communist Romania was, of course, severely punishable by law).

     4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days never pretends to find a Light at the End of the Tunnel; Mungiu remains unrelentingly realistic in his approach throughout. To grant these characters a tidy ending (although the viewer could certainly interpret the one that they get as being hopeful) would be of grave disservice to them. Once the abortion is actually carried out, the graveness of the action surfaces, affecting Otilia in particular. She is the focus of the film for a reason, forced to endure a far stronger range of emotions than any other character involved due to her burdening feeling of responsibility concerning the unfolding events. This feeling is captured perfectly in a heart-stopping, primal, gut-wrenching, minutes-long tracking shot in which she must dispose of the unborn fetus.

     That I have written a full page on the film and not once singled out the extraordinary performance of Marinca in the role of Otilia speaks to just how much I have to praise about the work. However, without Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days would be nowhere near the affecting motion picture that it is. The actress brings both strength and imperilment to a complex character, somehow allowing the viewer to feel unconditionally sympathetic to Otilia while still questioning her sense of morality. Largely due to Marinca’s nuanced work, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days cements itself as a complex, challenging, relevant, and ultimately draining piece of cinema. To my eyes, the picture represents an instant landmark in contemporary filmmaking. Right now, in November of 2007, I am almost certain that I will not see a better picture than this one released in all of 2008.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 11.20.2007

Screened on: 11.3.2007 at the ArcLight Hollywood in Hollywood, CA.


4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is rated R and runs 113 minutes.

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