A masterwork of post-2000s East European cinema, this is an intense and uncompromising Romanian drama about illegal abortion that draws power from its stark visuals and ultra-long takes.
Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu
Plot: During the final days of communism in Romania, Gabita turns to her college roommate Otilia to help arrange an abortion for her, which is a crime punishable by years in prison.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Communist Romania; Illegal Abortion
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: National Museum of Singapore – Perspectives Film Festival
First Published: 2 Dec 2012
When Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or for his powerful film on two women facing the trials and tribulations of having an illegal abortion in Communist Romania, it was a recognition of sorts to the richness of contemporary Eastern European cinema, and its potential to deliver hard-biting truths of a socio-political nature.
Mungiu is now one of the brightest of shining lights in the festival circuit, with his latest film Beyond the Hills (2012) snagging Best Actress and Best Screenplay at Cannes.
Turning back the clock to 2007 in his breakthrough film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, we see a picture of remarkable intensity, yet imbued with a kind of rare humanism that makes it such a compelling visual text.
I say visual text because Mungiu’s use of the camera takes precedence over anything else. In this drama, the camera is the film’s most important character – it is at once an observer, a voyeur, a follower, and a historical interpreter. I have rarely seen a filmmaker use the camera with such competence.
Romania in the late 1980s was stark. Mungiu captures the bleakness of that time with his camera. There is litter everywhere, roads are not well-paved, and buildings are rusty and old, but the independent Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is determined to help his friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get an illegal abortion, no matter how dangerous the circumstances are.
“We’re never going to talk about this, okay?”
They do it in a dinghy hotel room with the paid help of a male stranger with the requisite tools and experience. The entire sequence in the hotel room gives us a queasy feeling, with Mungiu’s camera always still, often in extraordinary long takes.
The stillness of the camera is in stark contrast to that of the last act – a long handheld take that follows a character through dark alleys and corridors. Mungiu doesn’t care about the lack of proper lighting, and neither do we.
By then, we are so immersed in the film that both character and setting transcend its raw visuals. Yet the audacity of the shot reminds us of Mungiu’s prowess with the camera.
As far as abortion dramas go, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is one of the very best. It doesn’t fall into the controversial trap of debating the pros and cons of abortion. It merely reveals the life-and-death situation of two women who desperately need one.
The strength and courage shown by women in these situations have often been ignored. Mungiu gives us an intimate and powerful glimpse of one story. That is enough to make us look at the issue from a humanistic rather than ideological perspective.