"You know what we're going to do? We're never going to talk about this, okay?" These words, spoken at the end of the abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, establish that everything we have been privileged to witness will be suppressed. It's a true reflection of attitudes about abortion in the time and place of the film, and a caution against allowing those attitudes to prevail anytime, anywhere.
Cristian Mungiu's intensely intimate drama of abortion in theory and practice takes place in 1987 Romania, during the final days of the communist Ceausescu regime. As such, an illegal abortion is just another product of the black market, which proves especially dangerous for two female university students: Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) seeks an abortion, and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) pledges to do everything in her power to help her friend.
Mungiu opens on a fishbowl, with two fish, before a skyline that serves as its diorama backdrop. This dorm-room decor is later mirrored in the hotel room where Gabriela will submit to life-and-death indignities; above the bed is a painting of two dead fish. Happily, this twinning is as hamfisted as Mungiu gets in a film that's scripted and shot with precision. The insinuating cinematography comes courtesy of Oleg Mutu, who photographed last year's brilliant The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.
Once the story arrives at its brass-tacks discussion with a seedy underground abortionist (the scarily credible Vlad Ivanov), the camera becomes, with the audience, the silent fourth person in the room during a level, stationary long take that changes up only when the negotiation takes a turn for the even worse. In the film's next major setpiece, Otilia submits to a smotheringly avuncular family gathering at her boyfriend's house. Here, Mungiu keeps the frame centered on Otilia, still dazed from the horrors of the hotel room and concerned about returning to her bleeding friend.
The steady, cheery, largely inane chatter of the family elders not only puts Otilia's horror in stark relief, but also suggests a cravenly out-of-touch populace. "When we were young, it was different," says one. "Now it's handed to them on a plate." Chastising Otilia for smoking, another suggests not that she quit, but do it respectfully out of sight (like Gabriela's pregancy): "It's a question of respect."
More than anything, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is powered by its performances, especially Marinca and Ivanov. Mungiu's script smartly focuses on the inner turmoil of the student who isn't pregnant: Otilia's ostensibly healthy relationship with her boyfriend derails when he reveals his immature inability to deal with the issue, while Otilia confronts it head-on, testing her physical and mental mettle.
This realistic squabble, arguably the film's highlight, precedes a carnivorous wedding dinner, which in turn serves as the ironic prelude to a final terror for Otilia. But when the film ends, Mungiu suggests, the real conversation begins. Like Vera Drake, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days presents an historical story of consequence and consequences around an enduringly lively social argument.
Genius Products brings to DVD the most critically acclaimed film of 2007 in a very nice special edition. The audio-visual presentation is of the highest quality for a DVD transfer, accurately rendering the film even in its challenging nighttime scenes. Also included is "1 Month with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: A Documentary Film by Sorin Avram" (15:38), a short film chronicling the film's tour of Romania. Romania is experiencing a renaissance in film artistry even as its movie theatres are an endangered species (only 37 in the whole country); hence, the film toured with a portable projection system and screen, allowing the film to be seen by over 17,500 Romanians who most likely would not have seen it otherwise. Avram talks to the good-natured projectionists and the shell-shocked but mostly grateful viewers of the film.
"An Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Cristian Mungiu" (25:22) goes in-depth with the auteur behind the film, on several topics: "story," "style," "sequence 37—dinner," "sequence the bathroom," "sequence 48—the night street scene," "sequence 48a—the garbage chute," "sequence 52—the final one," "the golden age—production design" (locations and shooting around non-period landmarks), and "fade out" (final thoughts). "An Interview with Cinematographer Oleg Mutu" (6:26) allows Mutu to explain the visual approach and how he achieved it. Lastly, Genius provides the film's "Trailer" (1:50) and previews for Chronicle of an Escape, The Killing of John Lennon, and After the Wedding. Unfortunately, though Mungiu's interview refers to a deleted scene on the disc, this edition doesn't include it (the British edition includes the deleted scene, an alternate ending, and two additional interviews). Nevertheless, this is a fine disc, and cineastes who haven't already owe it to themselves to check this film out.
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