4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days grips audiences
Shane Steinberg | Sunday, November 23, 2008
Following in the footsteps of Cristi Puiu’s “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and Corneliu Porumboiu’s “12:08 East of Bucharest,” writer/director Christian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days” may very signal that Romania is undergoing a Renaissance in film.
Both brutally honest and immeasurably pure, “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days,” like the other two films, crosses the line between being a film and being an experience so real and penetrating that it grabs you and never lets go until long after the end credits roll.
Proving that a film does not need special effects or large budgets to succeed, Mingiu, with a cast of unknown actors and without a score or anything resembling a soundtrack, tells the gut-wrenching story of illegal abortion in the final days of the Soviet bloc. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) are roommates in college living under the Ceausescu dictatorship. They are stressed and anxious, but not because of upcoming final exams. Gabita, an innocent, hard-working student, is pregnant and plans to get an abortion, which is illegal. Otilia agrees to help her and proceeds to book the hotel and meet with the abortionist, much to his dismay.
Mungiu carefully weaves his story, not revealing that the topic of the film is illegal abortion until nearly forty minutes have passed. The opening scenes may seem like an introduction to the film, but pay closer attention and you’ll find that an ominously inauspicious air hovers over every scene. Enter Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), a frightening man without morals who is contacted by the girls through a friend to do the procedure.
It is with Mr. Bebe’s arrival that Mingui tightens the film and constricts the audience with an experience so unbearably real and heartbreaking that Gabita and Otilia’s struggle becomes the audience’s struggle. The audience watches as the abortion is slowly performed, the shivers down Gabita’s back felt throughout the theater, and is left cringing at the sight of the four month old fetus lying wrapped in a towel on the bathroom floor. At the end of the film, Gabita is left affected by the experience, but it is Otilia who is left scarred by it, very much in the same way that the audience is.
There are no metaphors here, no dialogue to dissect in film class for the purpose of mining a deeper meaning, and no characters who reflect some greater perspective. Simply put, this is the story of abortion and the scars that the decision of whether or not to have one leaves on not only the mother but on those close to her.
Mingui isn’t one for pity and as such doesn’t shy away from using the medium to its fullest extent, thereby creating a latter half of a film that tears at one’s insides, causing them to question at times whether this is still a movie and if not, or whether it is right to make something so real about something so controversial.
It is the rawness of the film, something that American films rarely capture, that propels “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days” from being just another rehashed version of “Vera Drake” into being a masterpiece of the highest form.
The film takes no clear position in the abortion debate; instead it is a horrifying portrait of a numbed humanity. When the credits roll, half of the audience is disgusted either because they fundamentally disapprove of abortion or because they don’t like how raw and uncensored the film is. The other half walks out the theater silent, deep in thought, some crying, and all reliving the essence of the film in their minds. It only takes one viewing, however, to realize that “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days” is without a doubt this year’s best film.
The DVD, released in October, features an insightful documentary about the making of the film, as well as two interviews, one with Mungiu, in which he explains why he stripped the film down to such a great extent, and the other with cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who also worked on “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.”