Thursday, 25 September 2008

4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days

Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu

How far would you go for your friends?  The question’s almost a cliché now, but 4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile) brings new meaning to devoted.

Set in 1987, in the “Golden Age” of Ceauşescu’s communist Romania, the film spans a momentous day in the lives of two female students in Bucharest.  Meek young Gabriela is in trouble, and she’s booked an abortion, but the illegal procedure incurs heavy punishment if you’re caught.

Looking for help, she confides in her roommate Otilia, who takes pity on her desperate friend and throws herself into preparations.  In the course of the day, Otilia overcomes unforeseen obstacles, and slowly realises feckless Gabriela has mismanaged everything.  If the shadowy Dr Bebe will help at all, it’s going to be up to Otilia.

Harrowing but gripping, the film offers a look at the late 1980s in the poorest of the eastern bloc countries.  Painstaking care was taken to frame out modern development and film only buildings and props authentic to the period.  The result is a close up on the grey and cheerless landscapes of life behind the Iron Curtain.

Purposefully shot in an almost documentary style, director Cristian Mungiu says he tried to “focus on capturing emotion and truth.”  For this reason the film does not actually enter the abortion debate, but looks instead at the extreme lengths women would go to in order to secure a risky, outlawed and in many cases downright unsafe operation on the black market.

It’s not a film for the faint hearted.  There are disturbing scenes, and the drama plays out relentlessly, creating layers of tension with little release.  Yet it is a beautifully crafted film – perhaps one of the best of the year.  Stunning performances, especially from Anamaria Marinca as Otilia, engage us in the characters’ lives, and the familiar way we follow them around makes us almost complicit in their turmoil.

4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days is rumoured to be the first instalment in a planned trilogy from the same director, all about Romanian life under communism.  While this first part is hardly one I’d want to watch again, it’s going to remain high on my list of great films, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for any follow ups.

This review was originally written for an online magazine, and is republished with permission.

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