This movie review isn’t about abortion. Whether loud or silent, most people have a view on the issue, and there may never be an end to the debate. Wherever you stand on the issue, whether or not to have an abortion is a critical decision. This is the understanding that last year’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” the tragically under-viewed drama from Romania, brings to the table. A brilliant achievement of hyper-realistic drama, this film needs to be seen.
It’s early spring in 1987 Romania. The country is in its last days of communism before dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s execution in 1989. Food rationing is prevalent, power shortages and blackouts are common and ID cards must be presented everywhere. Abortion is illegal and the act can put those involved in prison for a long time. Gabita (Laura Vasiliu, “Bless You, Prison”) wants the operation, but she’s decidedly clueless about the whole thing.
Using a late abortion as a metaphor for the delayed overthrow of communism in Romania, “4 Months” is as much a critique of bureaucracy as it is a deadpan drama. It can be seen as an act of bravery and maturity that two women fight against their social and historical strife to get something done. Through the eyes of Gabita’s roommate, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca, “Youth Without Youth”), we get a stark and subdued visualization of life in a totalitarian state.
Gabita, for example, is a flake. Perpetually blowing things off, she exaggerates to downplay her troubles. Gabita claims that she’s two months late, knowing full well she’s four. Otilia is the levelheaded, but possibly pregnant, friend. Like a surrogate sister or mother, Otilia asks the right questions. She’s smart and hard working, but resentful of the white-collar oppression she experiences. By pitting two good friends against each other in an incredibly eye-opening day, Gabita and Otilia come to terms with the procedure and unfortunate circumstances in which the abortion must occur.
The two must contact an underground doctor, Viarel (Vlad Ivanov, “Second in Command”), get a room in a place that doesn’t keep good records and carefully contemplate the surgery. In the film’s finer scenes, shots last for minutes at a time, placed at a careful and non-judgmental distance. Be it a dinner or a bus ride, it’s like we’re in the thick of the women’s troubles.
When Otilia brings the abortionist to meet Gabita, who is too scared to go herself, the camera just stands at the door of the room. The shot lasts several minutes while the procedure is explained. Body language, dialogue and frankness in style make this surprisingly compelling. Something huge is about to happen, but everyone is too tense to acknowledge it. You may not want to hear what Viarel has to say, but it’s how a secret abortion works. Otilia must ask the necessary questions, while Gabita just looks sullen and blank. The scene is brilliant in its complexity and density, and it’s a seminal maturation for the characters. The rest is up to them, and we feel for Otilia and Gabita.
Newcomer Cristian Mungiu makes all the right moves in crafting a plausible and understandable situation. This is the work of a confident and skilled storyteller. There’s no manipulative score, no quick cuts looking for the right emotion – just brilliantly simple human emotions and contemplation. Unlike Mike Leigh’s similar 2004 abortion drama, “Vera Drake,” “4 Months” never lingers or stammers. It hits all the right moments, makes the strongest arguments and works on far greater levels.
The film may be in Romanian with English subtitles, but the understanding and impact are universal. Already having achieved controversial status in its homeland, this film will undoubtedly get people talking in this country, as well. As sexually active, politically inclined and worrisome students, we have an obligation to view “4 Months.”
This may all seem like overwrought issue-related melodrama, but “4 Months” is far greater than that. The smartest thing “4 Months” does is the way it avoids making abortion a moral issue. Instead, the act is portrayed as a political, medical, progressive, gender and maturity issue. This is the kind of film that compels us and makes us think. These two girls take chances and prove that courage – even heroism – can be found in difficult decisions.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Rating:4.5 out of 5 stars
At the Michigan Theater