Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s film 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days is a stark and dark look at life in 1980s communist-controlled Romania, a look more chilling than any horror film, as it is rooted in the cold reality that these were the circumstances that an entire nation lived under.
Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), a young woman in her early 20s, finds herself pregnant and unsure of what to do. She turns to her friend and roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) for help. As abortion is illegal in 1980s Romania, Otilia arranges for the illegal procedure to be done at a local hotel and raises the money needed to pay for everything. Gabita, for her part, constantly endangers the girls by not following the abortionist’s directions for their clandestine meetings. Finally, the three meet at a hotel for Gabita’s procedure and while things seem to go right at first, complications arise, forcing Otilia into drastic actions that test her friendship with Gabita.
Gabita’s abortion automatically makes 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days more daring than any Hollywood film of recent vintage. Not so much for the graphic and uncomfortable way in which it is shown, but because of the fact that it deals with the subject at all. Recent studio fare that has dealt with pregnancy has held the pregnancy itself as the film’s storyline. It’s the engine that drives the movie’s plot. Abortion as an option is mentioned, but quickly rejected. And let’s face it, while they say there is no such thing as bad publicity, no studio wants to face the public relations wrath of numerous pro-life groups for a film where someone actually goes through with an abortion. But here, the pregnancy is not the plot, just a plot point that drives the story of these two girls’ friendship. Laws will be broken, lives will be risked and friendships tested.
However, subject matter alone is not what makes this film such a stunning achievement. There is the unwavering and unblinking way that the film asks us to look at its characters. Mungiu uses a limited cinematic vocabulary, his camera fixed and unmoving, with no edits within each scene. This virtual lack of technique is a device that serves two important dramatic purposes. First, the starkness of the technique compliments the dreariness of the characters’ surroundings and their lack of aesthetics. It also allows each scene to unfold as its own little mini-movie, or perhaps more correctly, a mini-play. The lack of camera movement forces our attention on the actors, with Vasiliu and Marinca delivering blisteringly raw performances.
4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days is a tough film to watch. The power of its story and they way it is told to us will at times leave one squirming in their seat. But such discomfort is worth it for such a well crafted film.