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Survival of the Luckiest
Totalitarianism’s gray ripples
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND2 DAYS: Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. Cinematography, Oleg Mutu. Starring Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov and Alex Potocean. IFC Films, 2008. Not rated. 113 minutes.
|Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days|
Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is, in the words of the writer and director, “not an exceptional story.” It’s a story that Mungiu, while working on his film, heard variations on from numerous people: a story about a young woman needing to obtain an abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania, where abortion and birth control were outlawed in 1966. After that, the population grew, and so did the number of illegal abortions (and the number of women who died from these procedures). This is a bleak, troubling subject, one handled to astonishing effect in the elegant, tense 4 Months.
Set in 1987, shortly before the collapse of Ceausescu’s regime, 4 Months gently, carefully, naturally teases its narrative from characters, actions, conversations and settings. The action moves from a university dorm, with its bustling black markets, to an ordinary hotel room, and later to a family dinner where the troubled look on Otilia’s (Anamaria Marinca) face is so compelling that it’s hard to pay attention to the stories of the relatively well-off, sometimes thoughtless adults at the table who are remembering the difficulties of their own youth. The scene, like many in the film, sets a camera at one position in the room and lets the characters talk, leaving us to find a focus point or to try to take it all in. At an another point, as Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) lies motionless on a hotel bed, we see only Otilia, in profile, as she speaks to her friend. Everything is as still as the girl waiting for the abortionist’s work to have its effect.
Part of the weight and strength of 4 Months is in the way it subtly but frequently subverts expectations. The worst horror comes not from the physical parts of the abortion but from the abortionist, Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), an individual embodiment of systematic abuse of power. The film is not about the pregnant girl but about the friend who helps her, and the way this loyalty echoes through her life, shaking her relationship and reshaping her sense of self. Terrible things happen not on dirty streets but in anonymous hotel rooms, which, like the rest of the film, appear both rich with color and slightly bleached and wan, effectively suggesting both the time period and the restrictiveness of a country in which even a box of Tic Tacs must be purchased from a black market dealer. Nothing is too bright; nothing works too well.
4 Months is not an easy film to watch. It is a dream of beautiful filmmaking that takes the shape of a nightmare about power, freedom, friendship and the choices a person makes. The striking long shots, when they catch your eye, come as a welcome diversion from the intensity of the subject, from the uncertaintly and fear Otilia experiences as she makes arrangements and sacrifices for her increasingly distant friend. As 4 Months winds to a tense close, it seems like something else is going to happen — the cops will discover the girls, the hotel will inflict its absurd policies on Otilia and keep her from her friend, someone will startle Otilia as she sneaks into a decrepit building. But as Otilia hurries down streets so dark she’s barely visible, you begin to realize that this is not one of those films. This is not that kind of story; this is an ordinary story. There are no monsters hiding in the thick blanket of darkness. There is only what has happened, and what those who endured this day will make of it, themselves and their world in its wake.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days opens Friday, March 28, at the Bijou.