And now for something completely different.
The film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, directed by Cristian Mungiu, takes place in 1987, one of the final years of the Nicolae Ceauşescu era in Communist Romania. The film follows a young woman as she helps her friend have an illegal abortion. The film’s title refers to the latest a fetus can be carried to term before an abortion can be performed.
It’s a superb, stark drama about life in part about life under Communist rule in Romania at the time and focuses solely on the struggle of Otilia (an amazing performance by Anamaria Marinca) helping her friend through the many obstacles to get this illegal and dangerous procedure done.
It’s a difficult film to discuss because it’s such an emotional journey and Mungiu fully plunges the viewer into that journey with the characters. The camera sits as an observer to the events and just places itself in the room and watches the drama unfold. There are no smash cuts or close ups of any sort. The camera just gently sits there for long, arduous takes and walks along beside Otilia with long, complex shots. The camera is filled with an ugly grey and in a sense its almost suffocating in the circumstances of the film.
What Mungiu has crafted here is a film where the film totally lies in the audience as observer and constantly manipulates and plays with the viewer through every scene. During one dinner scene as Otilia must be forced to attend her boyfriend’s parents’ dinner party, the camera rests at the end of the table with Otilia framed perfectly in the middle as the guests on both sides continue their pointless conversations about politics, life, education, whatever. The audience grows restless as the scene just draws on and on with no cuts and no movement whatsoever. We are stuck there with Otilia. The audience is made to feel the restlessness that Otilia must be feeling. It’s a scene that any one of us could have experienced. That feeling of being in a place that’s so casual and so light and airy when you’ve just come from or just experienced something heavy or going through something that no one else in that room could understand. You want to scream but it just wouldn’t be appropriate. Being so far removed from the events in front of you as another part of you is just gliding along, going through the motions of actually being there.
As this scene shows, this is not a pleasant film to sit through. But it’s a vital one and an amazing piece of filmmaking. It’s a film that sits with you deep in your gut and doesn’t let go. It’s a film that really makes you feel as if you’ve experienced something even when you’re just sitting in your comfy chair at home. Mungiu creates a complete aura of filmmaking reality. Otherwise mundane scenes are part of his tapestry in building agitation and unease. He uses the camera and the amazing performances contained herein to recreate a reality that is so unsettling.
Now, on the issue of what side this film ends on in the great debate over a woman’s right to choose, the film straddles a line and never puts itself into the middle of that issue. There is nothing good about what happens in the film and every character becomes compromised in every way possible. Mungiu merely presents a story of great struggle and emotional heartache. It’s an issue with no clear side and the film illustrates this to a great extent. The lingering shot of the fetus on the floor is, in itself, both explicit and tells the audience a thousand different things. The dangers of the procedure are explicated thoroughly in the scene with the doctor and what he demands in exchange for doing the procedure is chilling.
However, Gabita’s (Laura Vasiliu) circumstances around her pregnancy are never alluded to. The father is unknown, why she is seeking the abortion is unknown, every single aspect beforehand is shrouded and only just barely hinted at. This creates little sympathy for Gabita’s character as she often is infuriatingly forgetful or absentminded throughout the film. Our sympathies are with Otilia and her worries for her friend, of getting caught, what could happen, her deeply unsettled feelings as we track her throughout her day.
The film, in the end, deals in crushing realism. There is no discernable soundtrack and the film runs almost silent throughout. It is the sounds of Romania and the simple, real, sparse dialogue that echoes throughout. Mungiu settles the audience as he does the camera in an unblinking fashion on the journey of this woman through an experience that will undoubtedly stay with her. Mungiu attempts to recreate this feeling in the viewer, a feeling that may never leave you. The last shot is one of simplistic elegance and cuts to black and credits, in complete silence. It is a filmmaker breaking away from the audience, pushing you back into your own world in a stupor.
This is an amazing masterwork of filmmaking. Anyone interested in the pure experience that a film can bring about, should see this amazing, emotionally devastating work. What Mungiu creates with what seems like so little is an amazing work of social commentary that both tells a captivating story about life in such a specific time and place while putting the audience in that character’s emotional journey. An incredible film.