In “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days” (“4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile” in the Romanian original), director Cristian Mungiu illustrates the difficulties faced by Romanians with a story about a black market abortion. Without conceit or a message being passed on, we become witnesses to how an average life in Romania can be affected by daily pressures under Ceaucescu’s Romania and how mundane goals like finding the right brand of cigarettes can linger unachieved for days.
Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) are students who share a dorm room together. When Gabita becomes pregnant, she decides to have an abortion, a choice which has far more implications than the abortion we know of today: they’re illegal, and therefore dangerous.
As Otilia charts a dangerous course through the city to help her pregnant friend, she urges enigmatic men on the street laden with tote bags full of contraband for a pack of Kent—the cigarettes were in short supply that day. One of the greatest strengths of the film is Mungiu’s ability to expand his characters, juxtaposing their emotions with their motivations on the rawest level.
Because of their illicit nature, such procedures got pushed underground and the health risk of invasive procedure performed by less-than-savory characters (such as our own Mr. Bebe, here) skyrocketed. Gabita’s friend Otilia is the dominant character in this story; in fact, she carries the entire film. Without her, Gabita’s abortion cannot take place. Otilia sorts out a hotel room and brings the abortion doctor to the room to perform the procedure.
in an authoritarian society like Romania in the eighties, women, especially, are more overlooked than males. Gabita and Otilia have to fend for themselves. In this case, when Gabita has no choice but to get an abortion she doesn’t just ask for her roommate’s help: she pins her every hope onto her candidacy. And yet, while there’s complicity between the two young women, sentimentality is absent from their negotiations. In fact, most of the people who appear in this film, from the hotel clerks to Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the self-styled abortionist, are forlorn and reluctant. So what is it about this story of a clandestine abortion in Romania in the eighties that makes “4 months 3 weeks and 2 days” a film that bears watching again and remembered forever, hopefully?
Firstly, it’s the elegantly-strained cadence of Mungiu’s images, which never bore you, or rush you when all you want to do is linger. Then, there’s that probing single-shot, single-take esthetic which inexorably draws you in because of its laser-sharp focus. In many films seen today, close-ups become almost confrontational by being so in-your-face and scenes transition into one another at too rapid a pace. Here the often-frantic action is slow-filmed.
When Otilia is at her boyfriend’s home where his parents are celebrating with their friends, everyone crowds around the table after dinner to drink strong drinks, smoke and recount anecdotes. Everyone is on one side of the table, framed by Mungiu unobtrusively. This allows one’s eyes to wander about the scene and pick up cues about it and note how uncomfortable the young woman, the outsider, likely feels among these strangers.
Anamaria Marinca’s character Otilia’s every moment of doubt is recorded, and as the film progresses to its conclusion we ask ourselves whether she has become trapped by an act she is asked to commit or she has actually vindicated herself through helping a friend. Without a doubt, “4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile” is one of the most vital films to have been made in recent times–an absolute must-see.