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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

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

Before I try to explain my reaction to this critically-acclaimed Romanian film, let me do a brief recap of its history and what I find to be its strong points. The film won 2007's Golden Palm (Best Picture) at Cannes, and at Metacritic, it receives a 97 (out of 100) critical consensus rating, which would make it the best-reviewed film of its year. The direction by Cristian Mingiu is often technically adept, especially during several long takes, and hand-in-hand with the bravura cinematography goes some solid acting which needs to stay in character and perform for lengths up to 10 minutes in a continuous take. The plot, set in 1987 Communist Romania during the Ceauşescu regime, provides some strong political context for the already intense subject of illegal abortions. All of these things conspire to make me believe that I should really find this to be a powerful masterpiece.

Now, here comes the Dark Side of Marky. For all the seeming realism, filmmaking skill and good acting, this film leaves me cold. Perhaps, it's supposed to leave a "normal" person cold because what it does depict does seems dehumanizing on multiple levels. However, this is not the cold I'm referring to. I kept waiting for something gripping, suspenseful and intense to happen, and I didn't feel it, even in the long scene near the end where Otilia (the wonderful Anamaria Marinca) is walking around trying to find a place to dispose of the fetus. Even with all the gunshots going off and ominous noises, the scene didn't make me squirm or even think something significant would happen. Looking back, I believe the most intense scene is the long take where the abortionist, the unsubtly-aliased Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), announces the reality of the situation and makes it clear that he has to take his pay in flesh as well as money. That scene was powerful drama, and the next few scenes following it were strong too, even if they were still all presented in a matter-of-fact tone which muted some of what was occurring. Much of this film's technique reminded me of that of the acclaimed Belgian directors, the Dardenne brothers, and I've not actually enjoyed any of the four films I've seen of theirs. I certainly think that this film is better than the Dardennes', if only because there is much less "walking around". On the other hand, Mungui's technique does shine in some of the long take scenes where he seems to be inspired by Fassbinder. I have a few qualms with the use of the technique here though. The opening half hour, while providing some foreshadowing and clues, doesn't really seem to give us much in the way of strong plot or characters because most everything in this beginning is reiterated later. Cut!

Having watched the film again with my daughter and hearing her reinforce some of my thoughts (without any clues or encouragement), I feel a bit more confident in my subversive assessment of the film. True, you could think that Sarah is just brainwashed, but when I asked her for an opinion on the film, the first thing she said was, "It seems like a movie where nothing happens even if what happens is very important." We then discussed several things about it which could both be seen as flaws or perhaps strengths. What do you think about the switchblade which Otilia takes out of Mr. Bebe's briefcase? Why did he not notice it being missing? The unfortunate, yet seemingly-ambivalent Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who undergoes the abortion, is a character who is not fleshed out at all. Now, before I address that, let me ask you this. For a film which seems to pride itself in its realism, is there any way in the world that she is in the middle of her second term? We see her unclothed and she is thin and flat-tummied and doesn't seem capable of carrying the fetus which we see later in the bathroom. I don't totally see this as a flaw because I don't criticize classic films where women who are as thin as rails are supposed to be pregnant, but those movies don't try to stake a claim to some new level of realism. Also, do you think Otilia is pregnant? She does throw up near the end of the film after the idea is mentioned, but since she went through hell during the film, that could make anybody throw up. I did find the scenes with Otilia and her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) to be interesting, but I wasn't sure if it was because it was supposed to make up for the insecure, cypher-like actions of Gabita (and yes, I know people like her) or because the characters represented some kind of allegory about Romania in 1987. I guess the fact that I can discuss all this while not totally recommending the film (even though Holden and adidasss say it was 2007's very best) means that it is a film which all should see and determine for themselves how good it really is. I'd have no problem showing it in a film class, but I can still remember some adult friends and family telling me things such as, "So I have to watch it AND discuss it? That sounds too much like school, and I already went to school!" Well, maybe so, but did you go to school in Communist Romania?

P.S. I have to say that a definite strong point to me about the film, no matter how irrelevant, is that I got to listen to the Romanian language. Being one of the Romance languages, it makes sense how much it sounds like the others which I know.