4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Daysby Kavish Chetty / 28.05.2009
In 1987, Romania was limply exiting the black aegis of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In an attempt to revive the flat-lining fertility rate, Ceausescu’s 1966 decree banned all abortions. And into the muted chill of this grimly communist backdrop is penciled the story of 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Because of social and political contingencies, undergraduate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) must attempt to aid her room-mate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) through an illegal, hotel-room abortion. But Gabita’s non-endearing naïveté will prove a source of continuing sacrifice on the part of her friend.
From its opening frame, this film is utterly enchanting, with its languid long-takes, the dimmed colours of its winter-lashed streets, and the obsessive gaze of the camera, stealthily stalking the protagonists. The actresses play their sallow roles with seemingly unorchestrated attention to detail: Gabita’s voice has the childish charms of the teeth-chatteringly nervous, while the capricious figure of their conscripted freelance abortionist Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), with a pseudonym tailored to match what little dark and unsmiling humour this film has to offer, shines with genuine power and danger. The focus on unedited, minutes-long takes translates to some extraordinarily well put together natural dialogue.
But for all the merits of its visual enchantments, its medical subject matter can upset weak stomached watchers – when the two girls eventually secure a hotel room and the services of their unsympathetic terminator, the camera hangs still as Gabita spreads her legs, and winces as the long-tailed probe pierces her. In another unsettling scene, a close-up shows the discharged foetus, discarded on the bathroom floor, its eerie human features amplified by proximity.
Betrothed to positive acclaim since its release in 2007 (including winning the prestigious Palm d’Or of that year), 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days is essential viewing, demonstrating a director with keen insight into the craft of neorealist drama. Director Cristian Mungiu has hinted that this film is the first in a series blackly titled ‘Tales from the Golden Age’, and if his subsequent films continue the rich and mature vein set by the first’s precedent, his foreign-sounding surname may yet become all the more familiar to the lips of the masses.
*Look for it at select Nouveau theatres