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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Movie Information

The Story: Set in 1987 Romania, a college girl helps her roommate get an illegal abortion. The Lowdown: Bleak, damning social commentary about a repressive society, with compelling drama in the relationship of its two leads.
Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean
Rated: NR

I should say up front that the Romanian import 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is getting four stars from me based on admiration—partly due to taking a cinematic aesthetic that’s not exactly my dish of tea and making it work. The four stars are not for the film’s entertainment value, because this just isn’t the type of movie you’re apt to walk out of saying, “God, I loved that movie.” In fact, I overheard two exit comments to the contrary. The first was a woman telling her husband, “I can’t think of anyone we know I could recommend that to. I’m not even sure I liked it myself.” The second was someone remarking that the experience was “pretty heavy.” I lean toward the latter, but would add that I’m glad I saw it, even though I can’t imagine ever wanting to see it again.

That’s actually high praise when you consider I spent nearly a week not exactly relishing the prospect of two hours of Romanian-abortion drama meant to depict the cruel repressive conditions of life in Romania under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The more I read about the film—nearly all of it breathlessly positive—the lower my spirits sank, especially when I learned the film was in the deliberately stark mode of modern neorealism (a movement that originally started in postwar Italy, and was born more of necessity than artistic desire). When I then learned that director Mungiu had adopted a single-take aesthetic for each scene (a concept he cheats on constantly), something like outright dread set in—as evidenced by the fact that I put off seeing it till close to the last minute.

Make no mistake, the film is bleak and it’s unadorned. The one-shot/one-scene concept, however, works more than it doesn’t (even if Mungiu plays pretty loose with it). A lot of that has to do with the fact that the camera is almost constantly mobile. Yes, it’s handheld, but it’s not deliberately shaky. Moreover, the film’s lack of a musical score is probably only noticeable if you know about it. The characters, story and atmosphere are sufficiently compelling that you’re not likely to miss the score. I suspect a good bit of the film’s ability to sustain interest is its innate foreignness, with only flashes of the recognizable.

The story itself is pretty thin. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is a fairly levelheaded college girl with a roommate, Gabita Dragut (Laura Vasilu), who is anything but levelheaded. Gabita has gotten pregnant and wants an abortion, but abortions are a criminal offense in 1987 Romania—not so much on moral grounds, but because of a falling birthrate. That, of course, doesn’t mean they don’t happen—they just don’t happen legally. The problem—at least the main one—is that Gabita is one of those people who can do nothing for themselves and who take no responsibility for anything. She specializes in whining, lying and playing helpless—a perfect blend of selfishness and stupidity. As a result, everything about procuring this abortion is left to Otilia.

The few things that are given over to Gabita are totally botched. Her incompetence lands them in a hotel that would warm the heart of David Lynch in its sinister seediness. Gabita’s inability to get anything right also lands them in bad with the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov), who exacts a heavy price to make up for it.

The arrangements, the abortion and the aftermath are really all the plot there is to the movie—excepting a subplot concerning Otilia’s relationship with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean). In some ways, it’s the subplot—and Otilia’s growing disatisfaction with the status quo and faltering belief in Adi—that seems more the point of the film, since Mungiu is out to depict the depths to which Romanian society sunk under Ceausescu.

The core drama, however, centers on the two young women and their often incomprehensible, seemingly co-dependent relationship. It’s virtually impossible to find anything to like about Gabita, but more often than not, the character you’re more frustrated with is Otilia, who seems a too-willing doormat for her friend’s selfishness. This, for me at least, is the aspect of the film that made it compelling viewing far more than any amount of social commentary inherent in its setting. Perhaps that’s because it’s the one thing that gives the film an identity that isn’t hemmed in by cultural considerations. This is not foreign—you’ve either had a relationship like it, or you’ve watched one up close. Whatever the case, it’s this relationship that makes the heart of the film universal—and what makes it the uncomfortable, yet worthwhile, experience it is. If you want to see it, go now, because by Friday it’ll be history. Not rated, but contains nudity, sexuality, adult themes and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

6 thoughts on “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

  1. Movieman

    This movie is not playing anywhere in the area. Mr. Hanke’s reviews have sometimes previously not been playing in the area. Someone is not doing his homework.

  2. Ken Hanke

    This movie was indeed playing in the area at the time the review appeared. It departed on Friday owing to lousy business. In fact, that fact is addressed in the review itself: “If you want to see it, go now, because by Friday it’ll be history.”

    I do not review movies that aren’t playing here at the time of the review. That’s not homework, just a fact.

    Granted, the review should have probably been sent to the archives on Friday — something I will mention to the web tech.

  3. Adam Renkovish

    I really want to see this. It seems really powerful. I’ve heard great things about it. Hopefully, either Cherrydale Cinemas or Regal Hollywood 20 will pick it up. The only problem is that they very rarely play foreign films unless they are up for Oscar consideration. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY only played for two weeks total. I’m just looking forward to moving to GA for the summer. There are several art house cinemas near there, and hopefully I will be able to view some quality films. I am working for a company called Art Within as a video technician, and one of my side jobs requires me to critique films that are playing around the area, and research the classics as well. Looking forward to that. Hopefully, I may get a chance to see this, if it’s still around there. Great review, by the way!

  4. Ken Hanke

    Oh, it’s powerful, but it’s also powerfully depressing, which, I suspect, is why it only lasted here for a week — well, that and being in Romanian. I’d be surprised if anyone in your area picked it up, but you never know. I imagine its DVD release isn’t that far away.

  5. “I imagine its DVD release isn’t that far away.”

    6/17/08

    Eastern European films do great in the rental market, but we don’t see the frequency like other European or Asian releases. The last Romanian title that I can think of us carrying is THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, was the most popular foreign film of that year.

  6. Ken Hanke

    “The last Romanian title that I can think of us carrying is THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, was the most popular foreign film of that year.”

    I could be wrong, but I have a hunch there may not be a whole lot of Romanian production — probably because they’re so busy working on American productions.

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