4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema.
Review by: Larry Thomas
So you think you have problems? Try living in a country where everything is controlled by the government. If you go to college, the government tells you where to go to work. If you want simple items from toothpaste to cigarettes to chewing gum, your best shot is the black market. You can’t even rent a hotel room without playing twenty questions with the government’s underpaid desk clerk and presenting your ID card, which must be on your person at all times.
These are all situations seen in the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, and set in 1987 when Romania was still a hard-line Communist state. And these minor activities pale by comparison when Gabita attempts to get an illegal abortion, an offence punishable by ten years in prison. Her friend and roommate in a college dormitory, Otilia, agrees to help Gabita, even though she would be subject to imprisonment as well. Like everything else in 1987 Romania, it’s something that must be done via the black market.
Since the government at that time was watching everyone for everything, the film plays out like a tense spy thriller. Trust is harder to come by than chewing gum. No one can make a move without checking to see if someone is following. Even the back alley abortionist, who makes speeches about helping, is really only in it for the money.
As directed by the talented Cristian Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, is a shattering film showing how, in a Communist state, the thumb of oppression on its citizenry affects every personal decision, from a simple purchase to a life-altering event.
The performances are terrific, especially Anamarie Marinca as Otilia. She has a boyfriend in medical school, but she is studying technology to ensure that she won’t be sent to a rural area to work. A brilliant dinner party scene at Otilia’s boyfriends’ parents apartment is fraught with tension as the young lovers, obviously at odds with each other, sit in the middle of idle chatter among family and friends. It’s done in one long take with no camera movement, as if the viewer were in the room.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is neither an anti-abortion film, nor a political statement. It is an observation about how ordinary Romanians go about making decisions affecting their lives under oppressive circumstances. The director gives the cityscape a grey, cold, and dirty look, which assists in making these characters come vividly to life.
In 2007, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days became the first Romanian film to win the coveted Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. If, as some have proclaimed, this film is the dawn of the new wave of Romanian cinema, it likely won’t be the last. Too bad it wasn’t nominated for the 2008 Oscar, as it would have been the front-runner.
In Romanian with English Subtitles, the unrated 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is a presentation of Cincinnati World Cinema at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and shows at 7 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.