4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a harrowing, starkly told tale of abortion and rape in the waning years of Romania during the oppressive Ceauşescu regime. Winner of the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, the movie is all the more brutally effective because it is so straightforward in its presentation, chronicling a day in the life of two young women caught in the most miserable of circumstances.
We begin in a drab college dorm room, with roommates Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) getting ready for an excursion out of the dormitory. Eventually it becomes clear that Otilia is the take-charge person of the two, as she makes the rounds to black marketeers and visits her boyfriend, Adi (Alexandru Potocean), to tell him that a mysterious errand will delay her arrival to his parents' house for dinner.
We soon learn that the errand involves Gabriela securing a second-trimester abortion. But this is Romania in 1987, a time when Nicolae Ceauşescu had outlawed abortion -- and even contraception -- in an attempt to bolster the country's population. Despite the dangers involved in circumventing the law, Gabriela has planned poorly. Childlike and a little dense, she has failed to book a room at the hotel specifically requested by the abortionist, a shady man named Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), leaving it to Otilia to scramble around for a backup hotel. Gabriela has further complicated matters by sending Otilia in her place to meet with Bebe.
By the time the abortionist finally meets both women in a dingy hotel room, Gabriela has been caught in several lies. Bebe seethes with ice-cold anger. And in a chilling scene, he exploits the women's desperation by demanding sex in return for his illegal services. After some panicked, and ultimately futile, negotiations, the women relent. Bebe proceeds with the procedure. He advises the women to dispose of the fetus by wrapping it in a towel and dropping it from a tall building.
The film is unblinking in its severity. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu lets events unfold in near real-time. He employs long takes and minimal editing to ratchet up the tension and heighten our empathy with the characters. Perhaps most effective, Mungiu anchors 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in the tedium of everyday life. Every small detail and seemingly innocuous exchange between characters push us into Otilia's vantage point, sharpening the impact of the hororrs that occur.
In an extraordinary scene, Mungiu presents a long take of dinner at Adi's parents' home. Otilia is sandwiched in the middle of the frame, her mind on Gabriela and that cramped hotel room, while she is surrounded by innocuous chatter. The scene winds on relentlessly, the camera static, Mungiu forcing the audience to take on Otilia's frazzled state.
The filmmaking is deceptively low-key. Mungiu and cinematographer Oleg Mutu, who also lensed the acclaimed The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, are painstaking in their commitment to avoid showiness. Their efforts allow the actors to fully inhabit their roles. The three principals -- Marinca, Vasiliu and Ivanov -- turn in remarkable performances.
Mungiu creates an indelible portrait of life under a dictatorship becauise he keeps his eye focused on a specific story. Ceauşescu's policies regarding abortion and contraception had far-reaching ramifications in Romania that are still being felt to this day, not the least of which were orphanages teeming with unwanted and malnourished children. 4 Months does not concern itself with the big picture. It gives us a single story, one with the filmmaker says is based on several real-life stories he had heard over the years. As a result, the film tells more about Romania under communist rule than would most documentaries.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1, the DVD is outstanding picture quality -- clear images, crisp detail and lines and a subtle color palette. That said, it should be noted that the theatrical aspect ratio was 2.35:1.
The Romanian audio track in Dolby Digital 2.0 is sharp and clean. No complaints. Subtitles are in English, English for the hearing-impaired and Spanish.
Romania has less than 50 movie theaters in a nation of more than 20 million people. Subsequently, after 4 Months won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, a traveling caravan brought the film to play in many Romanian communities where no moviehouses existed. 1 Month with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: A Documentary Film by Sorim Avram (15:37) is a chronicle of that tour, offering interviews with Romanian moviegoers, projectionists and others who were involved in this unique project.
More illuminating is a wide-ranging interview with writer/director/producer Cristian Mungiu (spelled "Munjiu" on the DVD title) that runs 25 minutes, 20 seconds. Cinestes will also appreciate a six-minute, 26-second interview with cinematographer Oleg Mutu. A theatrical trailer is also included.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days, Cristian Mungiu's depiction of a nightmarish day in the life of two young Romanian women in the 1980s, is grim but tremendously riveting. It is certainly not for all tastes, but the movie holds an unequivocal raw power; the film stuck with me for days after seeing it Moreover, IFC is to be commended for delivering a handful of strong supplemental material.