4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS & 2 DAYS (2007, directed by Cristian Mungiu, 113 minutes, Romania)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
If this is the Romanian New Wave than I’d hate to see their Punk. Raw and unflinching, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a bleak journey into the darkest days of two young female students during the waning years of Communist Romania. Cristian Mungui’s unblinking look at a black market abortion won the Golden Palme at last year’s Cannes Festival and it probably needed that title to receive distribution in the U.S., its dour Eastern European outlook and rhythm-less stretches are pretty much the direct opposite of what is considered commercial in today’s film market. This film holds a position for theater goers that I’m glad to see still exists; like Kids, Trouble Every Day or Requiem For A Dream, this Romanian bitch slap of a movie is the sort of high art cinematic spook house you must dare yourself to creep through.
It opens with the two young heroines packing up their things in their bleak little dorm room, “It’s like you’re going camping” one says with a ironic laugh. Actually they’re traveling into the city, foreign land to them, so the no-nonsense Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) can help her mousy friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get through a hotel room abortion. When Otilia goes alone to meet Bebe (an unforgettable Vlad Ivanov), the man who will carry out the procedure, we can see by one look at his face he has the emotional range of a potato. If we didn’t get the point he makes one stop on the way to the hotel and it is to bawl out his elderly mother in the street. Back in the hotel Bebe and the women prelude the abortion by taking a criminal pact but Bebe has all the power in this position and he doesn’t hesitate to use it like big foot slowly crushing a mouse.
Mingiu’s documentary style captures not only the unvarnished corners of a decaying Romania but also the unmediated rhythms of real life. The widescreen image just hangs there while the girls rustle around their room, taking as much time s it really takes for people to pack up for a weekend trip. When Otilia wrangles over a lost reservation at the hotel it really takes forever until the disgruntled clerk deigns to rustle up some alternative accommodations, and by the end you feel as annoyed as the last time such a thing actually happened to you.
So when Mungiu unleashes such unyielding and formless tension into his tyrannical abortionist’s surgical procedure, it can’t help but rattle you to the core. You know a million bad things could happen and yet there’s no sort of movie trickery, no foreboding music or tell-tale cutaways to give you warning that the probe is going to plunge in. Mungiu sets more traps than he actually springs, your worst fears aren’t met although by the time the film is over you know you’ve seen the worst day of these women’s lives.
Yet I’d be misleading you if I make this sound too much like a horror film, 4 Months has too much to say about class, political oppression and cinematic artifice to pass itself off as the Romanian version of Hostel. Mungiu merely understands that if you want to ruffle someone’s emotions about an issue there few more effective ways than tying a damsel up front of an approaching train.