Director: Cristian Mungiu (Occident)
Writer: Cristian Mungiu
Producers: Cristian Mungiu , Oleg Mutu
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu, Alexandru Potoceanu
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 113 min
You may feel the need to have a good, hot shower (or two) at the conclusion of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days. The movie is gritty, dark, cold and depressing. But sitting above all that is the fact that it’s undeniably compelling; despite its repugnant subject matter.
Taking place in communist Romania in 1987, we start our story in a student dormitory where we follow a young lady named Otilia as she goes about morning business. Looking for friends to talk to, buying some cigarettes and other essentials. We can tell something is going on between her and her flat mate, Gabita, as if they are planning something important; though we’re not quite sure what. We follow Otilia throughout the morning: meeting her boyfriend, gathering some money, stopping at a hotel, etc; still obviously preparing for something important and secretive. Eventually she meets up with a stranger in a public place, whom she brings back to Gabita at the hotel. Here is where we finally learn that an illegal abortion is about to be performed. As little problems that have arisen throughout the day grow more and more important and more and more impactful, we can see that this entire situation is a time bomb waiting to go off. Things quickly begin to spiral downward and out of control and Otilia must make decisions that will change the way she views the world, her friends and most importantly herself, forever.
While I try not to draw too many comparisons with other films in my written reviews, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Gus Van Sant’s high school drama, Elephant. While not as literally explosive as Elephant ends up being, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days appears to draw some inspiration from Mr. Van Sant as it spends quite a bit of its running time with seemingly mundane details and lengthy shots of characters going about normal, everyday activities; or lengthy, nearly silent shots of characters while in not such a mundane circumstance. The difference between the two films however, would be that while Elephant slowly builds nothing into cataclysm by the end, 4, 3, 2 has several moments interspersed throughout that are cringingly gripping and even interesting and sometimes sickening and degrading.
The director really does a fantastic job of getting us to sympathize with Otilia after the choices and sacrifices she makes for herself and her friend. We may not be so sympathetic at the time; but it’s later, when we’re forced to sit and think about what has happened that we really feel the sting of emotion. Whether it be a lengthy (10 minutes) happy birthday dinner party in which we get a long unbroken shot of Otilia as she sits at a dinner table full of joyous conversationalists or Otilia just sitting on a chair loooking at the floor as she contemplates and questions her friend on what has happened, we have no choice but to look into Otilia’s eyes and in this way, we’re very forcefully thrust into her shoes and we want nothing more than to be somewhere else.
Of course it wouldn’t work all that well without the simply fantastic resonance of Anamaria Marinca’s acting ability. Her devotion to the role is obvious and her level of emotional output is unparalleled and so true that it almost hurts to think about it even afterwards. Of course her flat mate’s naivete and “scared little girl” routine is played out all too well by the talented and beutiful Laura Vasiliu. With the two of them playing off Vlad Ivanov’s (the abortion “doctor” Mr Bebe) devilish experience in one of the movie’s most pivotal scenes, it’s another case where we just want all this to be over, for we know this just can’t end up good – even in a best case scenario. But it never seems to end, which is the tragedy in the story and ironically, part of the greatness of the film.
The director’s use of a hand-held camera and apparently all natural lighting just adds to the dreariness. Communist Romania doesn’t look like too much fun of a place to be living in 1987 and much of that is due to the cinematography and art direction. Some of the shaky cam gets a tad grating in a couple of scenes, but for the most part it’s very much under control and helps to stir the emotion that much more with its sense of realism. This all culminates with a closing scene that brings everything we’ve experienced and everything we’ve felt to the examination room, so to speak; and we’re forced in near silence to ponder what has transpired over this entire, emotionally draining day. The perfect closing to a near perfect film.
Whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life, fear not. The film doesn’t preach one way or another. It’s simply a story of two inexperienced women faced with impossible decisions, a harsh world and a brush with some unfortunate luck. If you wanted to say that the film does have a message, that might be accurate, but I can see that the film maybe makes an argument for (or against) those on either side of the proverbial fence. You can watch it for yourself and make up your own mind on whether the movie has some sort of political or social agenda. In my opinion, not at all.
Having not seen any of the foreign langauge films nominated for an Oscar this past year, the following may not be a fair comment: why this film wasn’t nominated is a travesty beyond words. I can’t imagine any of the other foreign language films surpassing the oxmoronic, ugly beauty of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and it’s boldly and brilliantly told story. Shame on The Academy; this is a winner through and through.
Click “play” to see the trailer: