|Cast:||Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean|
An abortion film which avoids outward statements about the topic sounds as if it would be a Hollyplastic “entertainment” primarily designed not to keep the 50% who would fall on the side they came out against from passing through the turnstiles rather than a Cannes Film Festival winner. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days wasn’t made to scare people from making the same mistakes the two young women it features did in 1987, nor to change the law, both points became irrelevant anyway when the law was repealed in his Cristian Mingiu’s home country of Romania. Mingiu is simply attempting to paint a realistic picture of life under an oppressive and repressive regime. Though then ruler Nicolae Ceasescu is never mentioned, the sterile gray atmosphere with dreary rooms that seem a prison without bars and the tidbits of the bleak and desperate lives of ordinary Romanians that creep into the back of the frames doesn’t paint a rosy picture of his reign.
The subject of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days could have been different, and in fact will be if Mingiu gets to make the other stories he’s written about Romanian life under Ceausescu, but the important point is the abortion tale contains the primary aspects – fear, anxiety, paranoia, and guilt – of life in a country where everyone but the rich are forced to hustle. Everyday life shifts you into survival mode, with scared animals tending to behave desperately and brutally.
A great example of getting past the distraction of providing information conventionally considered crucial to the plot by simply ignoring it, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days shows you can imply far more when you state very little. Taking place over the course of an afternoon and night, the film feels as if it unfolds in real time through the single setup lengthy handheld takes. All the major decisions have been made before the film begins, allowing it to be told in a manner of fact manner that excludes aspects that are no longer relevant, such as the identity of the father who has been excised from the picture.
If 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days makes an important statement on abortion it lies in getting past the nonsensical partisanship and looking at examples of how the lives of actual human beings are effected. The removal of all the background information has a very specific purpose, to allow Mingiu to depict the characters without judgment or applying corollaries. With artificial birth control banned in addition to abortion, Gabita’s (Laura Vasiliu) case was hardly unique, but Mingiu chooses not to even mention that Ceausescu law, as it could be seen as an excuse. Countless women who don’t really want or can’t really afford a baby wind up pregnant, so why should an important issue come down to feeling sorry for one girl or saying she deserved it simply because someone decided to make a movie about her?
Just as the law doesn’t care of or consider your circumstances, Mingiu refuses to allow his film to become a specific case. Obviously such a law prevents some people from having the procedure, but also puts the business in the hands of black marketeers, theoretically creating a more dangerous service due to it being performed without qualification, regulation, or to a certain extent even recourse. The abortionist Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) tends to be considered a bad guy as he’s an insensitive and scolding arrogant hothead, but he’s just one of the many people who live their life going about doing what they deem necessary.
Gabita jeopardizes Bebe’s operation by failing to follow any of the few simply directions he’s requested of her. She may be a much nicer character, but while he makes no attempt to hide his identity, she's dishonest with him about everything, even irrelevant details such as claiming her college roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is her sister. Starting with the fourth month, terminating a pregnancy shifts from abortion to homicide, now carrying a sentence of 5-10 years in the clink. Though Gabita tries to play Bebe for a fool claiming she’s just 2 months gone, the title obviously refers to the length of her pregnancy even though no such specifics are ever uttered during the course of Mingiu’s film. With all the confidence Gabita inspires, it’s a wonder why Bebe doesn’t leave her high and dry.
Once you’ve eliminated the idea the film is going to be about good and evil or one of those we’re right and you’re wrong sermons, we can consider what it’s like to be one of these characters. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is an unsentimental observation of its characters from their perspective. The film is mostly about friendship, as the primary focus is Otilia rather than Gabita. She’s there because she believes she has the kind of bond where either party does what’s necessary to help the other. Her simpleton friend would probably bungle the aid, but she trusts that Gabita would understand she needed help and at least make an effort. The whole ordeal makes Otilia realize her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) might not be the right man for her because even though he’s a more competent assistant, he’s not thoughtful and perceptive enough to know when he should lend a hand.
Otilia has no personal stake beyond the wellbeing of a friend who can’t do this alone. With even the major events that take place during the movies tight time frame are largely kept offscreen, blocked by distance if not a specific impediment such as a wall, much is left to the imagination. Mingiu’s skill lies in provoking us on the mental, emotional, and even physical level. Much of the film relies upon your wonderment over what Otilia is thinking. But as the acting is superb you believe you can tell more accurately than if Mingiu resorted to stating all his points. The key scene takes place when she begrudgingly leaves Gabita, probe in vagina, to attend the birthday party of her boyfriend’s mother. You see she’s about when she’s with her boyfriend because she’s worried about Gabita. Though Mingiu seemingly does nothing beyond allow cinematographer Oleg Mutu to roll a reel of film, shoot her from the other side of the table as the bourgeois adults ramble on. To an extent, Otilia is made to feel wanted even though they look down upon her for being a lower social class, but the conversation doesn’t involve her in any way, and she increasingly tunes it out. Otilia is at the center of the frame, yet even though she’s to the side of most others, she never seems more on an island. Otilia never says a word, but we imagine she’s having visions of Gabita dying or getting arrested because there’s no one there to help her. It’s hard to remember a scene so isolating.
Mingiu’s unadorned cinema verite style handheld realism makes the obvious comparison to the cinema of the Dardenne Brothers such as The Son or L’Enfant. However, the unease the film generates makes it a bit closer to Lodge Kerrigan’s Keane. Kerrigan always utilizes the tension of the unknown. Even when there’s an obvious threat in his movies, just as often some other form of danger seems to lurk at every corner. Whether tangible or imagined, it feels very real. The lack of polish, slickness, and musical score only serve to amplify our apprehension. Mingiu seems the most understated of this group of directors, slowly escalating and intensifying the panic and dread. Doom seems as preordained as the multitude of decisions made without or participation, yet the brilliance of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is you get so caught up in worrying something awful is going to happen to at least one of the women it doesn’t matter if it actually does. It’s almost a win win situation for Mingiu, as a positive result will be greeted with great relief while you’d have to be oblivious to the tone of inevitability to be unprepared for a negative one.
The acting is great all around, as everyone not only holds your attention, but has you hanging on the most minute expression or gesture that might reveal their mind. Anamaria Marinca, who despite her silence often seems an open book, dominates the film as the character who always has to take charge and be resourceful because no one else can or will. She’s submissive to men to a point, and would like to be able to trust and rely on someone, but being less vulnerable than Gabita doesn’t keep her out of trouble. Actually, her self sufficiency and responsibility seems to force her into more situations and conflicts. Laura Vasiliu does a great job of balancing her role. She’s out of her depth without being an idiot, helpless without being a clown. Vlad Ivanov’s performance is also very notable, as he’s a forceful and volatile presence who adds much to the dangerous dynamic without seeming inherently evil.