February 7, 2008


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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (NR)
A college student in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania helps her roommate get an extremely illegal abortion in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a reminder of how deeply unpleasant life under a dictator can be.

Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) has managed to eke out a normal-ish life despite the boot on her neck that is the authoritarian communist government ruling every aspect of exsistence in late 1980s Romania. She knows where to buy black market cigarettes, how to stay one step ahead of the minders and, as her roommate mentions, is good at knowing who to pay off. That roommate, Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu), is particularly in need of that skill now that she has found out that she’s pregnant and in need of an abortion. Through an acquaintance, she learns of a Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) who will perform the procedure, even in her condition (she lies and tells him that she’s less than three months pregnant when really she’s more than four). Otilia sets it up, finding the hotel room and getting the money they think they’ll need to pay Bebe. But it turns out that Bebe’s not in his line of work for altruistic reasons and money isn’t what he’s after. Such begins the nightmarish path — always with the fear of government imprisonment — of Otilia in her quest to help her friend.

If you’re only going to see one Romanian abortion film this year …

Nothing about the premise of this film seems inviting. But this isn’t a polemic about the abortion issue. In fact, you could make a good case for this movie leaning to either the life or choice side of that debate (I suppose it leans a little stronger toward the choice side but this is hardly a romanticization of that desperate and painful decision). The movie seems to care nothing about the arguments and sticks to the harsh reality of the act itself. Wrapping up this emotional event is a sense of the suffocating, wearying effects of a brutally oppressive and intrusive government. Every movement of the women seems perilous — even paying for a hotel room or waiting for a cab feels like it could lead to disaster. Everything in life seems to happen outside the law — the cigarettes, talk of bribing border agents — which means to some extent that there is no law, no sense of justice. When trouble hits, Otilia and Gabriela are left vulnerable to the worst traits of a society run entirely by a black market. Otilia is more savvy than Gabriela but she finds herself at the mercy of the evil Bebe nonetheless, making Gabriela’s naiveté seem almost unforgivably short-sighted.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is sharp and unforgiving. It presents us with female characters that are far stronger (in the case of Otilia) and more imperfect (Gabriela) than you’d likely ever see in a mainstream American film. And, by filtering politics through the very personal lives and events of two individuals, it gives a more disturbing and frightening picture of this place in not-too-distant history than a simple report on Ceausescu’s policies could do. B+

Not rated. Written and directed by Christian Mugiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (titled 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile in Romanian) is and hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by IFC Films in limited release and is available on Comcast OnDemand.