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Director: Cristian Mungiu     (2007)

Otilia – Anamaria Marinca (blonde);  Gabita – Laura Vasiliu (dark hair, pregnant)

4months long poster

            4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, the 2007 Romanian film about illegal abortion by director Cristian Mungiu, is set in 1987. It’s stated in small type at the start of the film, but the feeling of the age permeates the film. This was before the fall of Communism, Romania still under the police state of Nicolae Ceauşescu. The bleakness and poverty of the state is everywhere. Mungiu’s long takes and intimate, fidgety camera work is crucial, squeezing the tension of the story and the situation to a trembling intensity. If you ever wanted to see a film that makes its case for legalized abortion, this is it. But that is neither the main point here, nor the most interesting aspect of the film. Ultimately, the film deals with deeper issues, looking hard at fear and oppression, both in government and how rooted into our psyche it is.

            The film, on the surface, has little to do with politics. But as the story unfolds, each scene reveling additional layers of oppressive powers and its manipulative abilities, it comes clear that this is a film very much about the state. It opens in a dormitory room, though we don’t know that immediately (one of the nice storytelling efforts here is how the elements reveal themselves slowly, often after the fact – a method that increases the sense of things out of one’s control). Otilia (the blonde, main character) says she’s going out to buy a few things. She walks the halls, dips into various rooms, and stops at ‘the store’, which is another dorm room – all the while never stepping outside. A scene later, when she walks outside, the camera tight on her back, it comes as a bit of a surprise, as the opening sequence was suggestive of a prison. The feeling set up by that scene, one of containment, where the characters are constantly held within some unseen or unmentioned control, fills the length of the film. (The film’s poster, or the version of it shown above, captures this sense perfectly – there is no where to go, no future, no outlook within the system.)


            Everywhere the characters go, they are under surveillance, showing ID cards, explaining their actions, justifying their commitments and tardiness. It is a police state, and the film exceptionally captures the sense of government abuse and control – that feeling of constant fear of some guilt being forced upon you from any side, at any time. But the film is getting at some more general theme. In the hotel room, with the abortion doctor laying out the conditions of the procedure, the tension rises subtly and steadily until it is this huge fear in the room. The scene is wonderfully done. The abortionist starts in a relatively calm ordering of the situation, continually repeating the risk to himself, that he comes here and is honest, open, asks nothing but the same from the two women. Slowly, almost methodically, the scene shifts as the situation dawns on the women and the audience at the same time. The power he has swells enormously, fearfully, until the helpless, inferior position they are in becomes desperation. It is the story of strong government, one that comes as if to aide and assist but manipulates their power over you until you are willing to give up anything out of fear. It is what happened, in a sense, to Eastern Europe.


            This idea of oppression is everywhere and Mungiu is clever enough to show it work its way into all the relationships in the film, not just as an example of government. Otilia leaves the hotel room to go across town to her boyfriend’s house for his father’s birthday. Immediately, she is protective. Her boyfriend subtly manipulates guilt into her being late, positioning himself in some attempt at authority through accusation. The dinner scene and their conversation in his bedroom afterwards masterfully work this idea in with subtle shifts of tone and dialogue – the dinner conversation regurgitating party lines of class distinctions and city/country/educational superiority – until she flees, by herself, out into the dark and empty city, fear on all sides, alone. It is a film strongly about choice and the suppression of freedom, not merely in the rights for abortion, but in the rights to live, to will oneself against fear; it is a film that deals deeply with the immense sacrifice and loss generations of people had to put up with under powerful governments and sexist ideals; it is a film that impressively looks into the inner workings of oppression.

            In the end, the two women are alone, together but with this thing between them. The feeling you get is that Otilia has had to do this on her own, that she has made the greatest sacrifices, taken the greatest risks and that she has had to deal with much of the process on her own. The film ends and there is this thing undeniable, as much as they want to deny it, that lingers – the history, the sacrifice and loss; it’s their youth, the generations growing up under this oppression, the lives lost to the weight of this age of authoritative control.


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