Sunday, May 01, 2016

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)

Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)
Stars: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Oscar History: No nominations, but the film did win the Palme d'Or
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars

Minimalism is arguably the sexiest thing in foreign or independent cinema right now, and with good reason.  Frequently true art-house cinema will find a way to not only comment on the world around us, but also the world of cinema at large, and currently there could not be more of a push for "larger, bigger, tentpole, franchise"-the quest to create a cinematic experience similar to that enjoyed in front of your television or to create something that can be milked for toys, merchandise, and sequels (oh the sequels!).  As a result, independent artists are trying to react to that by making quiet films, films that slice at a particular aspect of life but do so with small amounts of characters, perhaps even interactions in general, on the screen.  4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days does just that, telling the tale of just one day in the life of two women toward the end of the Communist era in Romania.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film succeeds not by being minimalistic, but by actually finding a way to get their stories across without having to indulge even a little bit in expository language or random twists-and-turns.  Minimalism itself isn't an automatic indication that something is bad, just as blockbusters or larger-than-life stories aren't an indication of a lack of artistry.  The film starts out laser-focused on Otilia (Marinca), and stays on her the entire journey save for one crucial scene, but as the film progresses we learn very little about her and instead we are treated to more of an introduction to her world, and what is shaping her every move.  The film is not shy about showing the destruction brought to Romania by the Ceausescu regime, which at this point was about to collapse during the Romanian Revolution.

The central action of the film is on Otilia's friend Gabita (Vasiliu) who is roughly 4-5 months pregnant, but unmarried and trying desperately to secure an abortion for herself.  The film shows Gabita as an unknowable, horrified creature, someone who is clearly in way over her head but is also used to the world stepping in and taking care of her.  There is a scene about halfway through the film when, after both girls are raped by the man who is performing the abortion, Otilia actually shows her true hatred for Gabita, chastising her for constantly lying and realizing that Gabita either is very naive, very foolish, or very crafty, essentially pimping out her friend in order to pay for the operation.  It's perhaps the only time we get a window into both girls at once.  Otherwise we are treated to what is essentially an unspoken bond between the two women.  It's implied, quite heavily, that Otilia has already done this before but it's never admitted, and it feels like she's about to claim such a thing with her boyfriend Adi, who is of a higher economic station than her and she is aware that his family is deeply prejudiced against her.  The film ends with a large number of questions hanging around both girls-will they remain friends, will Otilia continue to date Adi, and where do they go with their lives from here, but weirdly for an independent film of this nature, the central question is quite simply answered: the girls get away with the illegal procedure, with Otilia throwing the fetus down a chute and then cleaning up the mess.

What stands out about this film, aside from just the approach of it to the subject, is the way that it feels wholly organic.  The dialogue is rich but never feels like something out of a screenplay.  The role of Gabita, in particular, had to be incredibly difficult to write because we never learn her motives.  The closest we come is that she waits in the lobby while her friend has sex with the abortionist, and is relatively calm and composed the second that a man walks by and she wants a cigarette.  The fact remains that the dialogue, especially for a character that feels very on-her-sleeve, is wonderfully selected to make sure that we learn as little about her as possible without it ever feeling like the director is hiding obvious clues to keep the story coming.  This is true of almost every character save for Adi, who as a "higher-class" member of the society hasn't felt the pressure to be introverted and never show his cards.  It's a wonderful meditation on gender and economic roles, and quite frankly feels like it could be made about pretty much any era.  The fact that they do it with an issue as controversial as abortion and never once feel preachy, moralistic, or have a progressive speech about how this is "right" is all the more outstanding.

Those are my thoughts on this picture, one I've been meaning to see for years but never got around to for some reason.  What about yours?  Is anyone else a fan, or have some other pictures from recent Romanian cinema I should give a try?  If so, share below in the comments!

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