In a day and age in which so many films are as disposable as yesterday’s newspaper, Cristian Mungui’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a work that haunts you long after its final credits roll on the shattered lives of its two young protagonists. Set in Romania in the late 1980s, it examines the crushing effect of living under a Communist regime, focusing on two women who finds themselves gradually sucked into a situation, in over their heads and compromising their values in ways they never contemplated. While Mungui puts the issue of abortion front and center, the movie also speaks to the oppression of being forced to live with antiquated notions and the inability to free yourself from a society in which opportunities to start a new life are nothing more than a sham.
Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) are college students who have high hopes despite the dreary lives that they lead. They find themselves, however, in the unenviable position of trying to arrange for an abortion, an act that could put them both in jail. Otilia has secured the services of Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), an unscrupulous laborer who agrees to perform the procedure on Gabriela, who is well into her second trimester. While this man initially appears to be understanding of the girl’s position, his true nature emerges as he waffles about the cost of the procedure and eventually exacts a price from the girls that neither is prepared to pay. Complicating matters even further is the realization that the procedure, as performed by Bebe, is far riskier than the women had anticipated. Gabriela is warned that she must lie perfectly still after he has begun and that it may take up to eight hours to complete. Failure to do this may result in permanent physical damage or her bleeding to death. Of course, this is of no concern to Bebe who leaves after initiating the procedure, leaving the young women to complete it on their own.
The premise is simple but obviously the issues that Mungui puts forth are morally and socially complex. What makes the film so arresting is the tone and pacing that the director employs. So much of the story is told in a matter-of-fact way as Mungui uses a semi-documentary approach that’s akin to Lars von Trier’s Dogma 95 style. The camera disappears and we’re left peering through the fourth wall, voyeurs observing private moments that are meant to be hidden. This makes what we witness all the more shocking and tragic.
Equally disturbing is the way the film sneaks up on you and its pace reflects the actions of the two women. What begins as a haphazard sexual act results in an action that could send them to jail which, in turn, leads to compromising their morals and committing acts that will not only haunt them, but could potentially change the way they live the rest of their lives. Mungui tells their tale in a similar manner, using a rather slow pace in which every day concerns are shown and as we watch this tale unfold, we find ourselves not only wrapped up in the character’s plight but questioning our own moral stance on the issues the director puts forth. Amidst the mundane, particularly a lengthy nine-minute shot in which Otilia finds herself trapped at a dinner party at her boyfriend’s home, suffering advice from his parents and guests while her mind is on Gabriela, tragedy and suffering occurs. In a sense, this is a metaphor for the indifference of the government that oppresses them, turning a blind eye to the welfare of the individual while concerning itself with keeping its citizens in a lockstep life in which individuality is crushed at every turn.
Mungui pulls no punches in his depiction of the abortion procedure and its aftermath. The images 4 Months contains in its last twenty minutes are as shocking as anything you’ll ever see on screen and will leave you shaken, moved and perhaps even questioning your own position on this issue. Without question, the film has an agenda and while some may dismiss it as sensational propaganda, that doesn’t make what women like Otilia and Gabriela went through any less moving or tragic. This is a film that sparks debate, calls for change and makes no bones about where it stands about basic human rights. There’s no question who Mungui is calling on the carpet at the end of the film, as he concludes with one of the more morally daring shots in recent memory.
Opens tomorrow, April 11 at Boardman’s Art Theatre
Runtime: 1hr 53min — Not Rated — Drama