“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” – Andrew Guarini

At 112 minutes, the script for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days could have been much longer; the characters could have explicitly stated their inclinations, the structure could have given us back story and the cinematographic aspects could have been less dependent upon the purest noise, just plain dead silence. But the fact of the matter is that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is one of the most subtly devastating films to come along in recent memory, a tale of a different time and place whilst still being a thoroughly modern tale of friendship and risk and morality in trying times. In 1987 Romania under the longer than long arm of Communism and in the last days of the Ceau?escu regime, abortion was a highly illegal and more often than not fatal practice.

 

This film is the story of two students who are roommates and friends at college who over the course of one day go through the peril of following through with an abortion they have planned for a pregnant young girl in the broken city The friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is not pregnant and is not undergoing the hazardous procedure like Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) but as we go through the day we realize that everything before, during and presumably after this procedure has not just physical pain, but unbearable spiritual burden and that’s the main reason this is such an effective piece of cinema. It’s not just about the politics of abortion (if it is even about that at all) but about the strength of friendship and self against something so much bigger than these girls who are already living in a lesser version of hell and are still only in their early 20’s. For them, from the very dull beginning and throughout without use of sensationalizing musical scoring or tricky camera movement, there is no hope.

 

Writer and director of the film Cristian Mungiu originally intended it to be called Memories from the Golden Age and intended for it to be a collection of short stories. The actual outcome couldn’t be any more different, especially in the sense that this singular story is so focused yet so wildly unpredictable and unnerving. In terms of shot style, this 2007 winner of the Palme d’Or is very similar to the 2005 winner of the top award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Dardenne Brothers L’Enfant. However whereas in the latter film the lack of sympathetic characters or purpose to the meandering lens leaves more alienation, 4 Months flawlessly instills a constant sense that you must be thinking both within and outside the frame. Without the use of parallel editing or contrast cutting (which would be easy ploys for sympathy or easy ways to ratchet up tension) a scene like Gabita’s dinner with her boyfriend’s parents become implied internal madness as Gabita squirms in the center of the frame for a shot that must linger in its jittery handheld place for something like 10 minutes.

 

The hyper-extended, near-static take is starting to become a little bit of gimmick for emotional depth in modern cinema but most forget that also you need fleshed out characters and straining conflict in order to keep the aesthetics from becoming just that; merely visuals without context or meaning. Often times the environment contributes to making the execution work, such as the placement for Otilia’s abortion, a crummy, bare hotel complex with lights flickering and pushy front desk attendants sweating you for identification in the shady part of town. Their makeshift abortionist Mr. Bebe is playing with terrifying sternness by Vlad Ivanov, a catalyst for further misery as the girls beg and plead (despite their misinformation and ever apparent youthful innocence in his wake) for him to carry through with the abortion despite all the obstacles keeping Otilia and Gabita from getting the operation done. The intensity of this one sequence of the film alone is masterful, Mr. Bebe speaking off screen as we see the terrified faces of our two leads, changing with their fates every second.

 

All the performances are damning in their own right and all for different reasons; Otilia is obviously terrified, driven by bad luck and bad decisions to an inescapable action, one with undeniable tragedy. Mr. Bebe is a more minor character, but equally unforgettable; the absolute absence of any relief in his sentences is terrifying. No humor, no bargaining, only business and disdain for errors of judgment. But the emotional anchor of the film (which is odd considering she’s the one not getting the abortion) is Vasiliu’s portrayal of Gabita, the friend torn between maintaining her own sanity and the act of simply being a good friend to someone in a time of need. When it comes down to it; past the abortion, pass the Communism, pass the oppression, past the bleakness, there is the relationship between two friends made infinitely complex by unfortunate and improbable circumstances.

 

The naturalistic writing is complemented exceptionally by Mungiu’s script, which for lack of a better word just flows in such a realistic and immersive matter; the aforementioned dinner scene is a great example, where the characters surrounding the nearly speechless Gabita hop between trivial and deep topics at an alarming rate. There are just so many scenes just like this, I struggle to cohesively recall them without blabbering through a slew of adjectives or spoiling the riveting story arch…so it’d just be better to make like 4 Months and be minimalist technically but so incredibly potent emotionally. It falls prey to its own style sometimes in that it has a sporadic habit of over emphasizing the bareness to the point that it becomes just that; either a bit too patient or giving the audience more time than needed to fill in the blanks that their spoken word doesn’t. But all this seems quite minor when looking back to the shattering effect this movie has…just thinking back to the ending and whatever follows past the black screen is a trip in itself. The movie is just as good, a true jewel of pure, powerful filmmaking and performance, a story that is both timeless and timely.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

-Andrew Guarini

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