Wednesday, November 30, 2011

4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days

Originally Written and Posted at on 5/14/09 w/ Additional Edits.

Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile tells the story of two college students in 1987 Romanian in the final days of Nicolae Ceausescu era trying to arrange an abortion, which was illegal at the time. With the help of a doctor, they hope for things to go right but instead, the two women learn about the consequences and sacrifices they have to go through. A harrowing drama with some political insight about the times of Communist Romania, it's a film that is truly eerie about the dark world and how two women struggle to live in those harsh times. Starring Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Adi Carauleanu, and Luminita Gheorghiu. 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a harrowing yet mesmerizing masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu.

Two young women are living in a dorm at a university in Bucharest as they're packing things for a trip. Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca) is trying to get things for her roommate Gabriela "Gabita" Dragut (Laura Vasiliu). Otilia goes to various rooms in her dorm floor for things as she later leaves to meet with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Protocean). Adi asks Otilia to attend a family dinner to celebrate his mother's birthday as Otilia isn't sure as she's asking for some money. She reluctantly agrees though isn't sure when she's coming. Later that day, she goes to a hotel to get a room Gabita had made reservations but it didn't go through. After getting a room at another hotel and at an expensive rate, Otilia calls Gabita, who is feeling ill at the moment to meet a mysterious man at a rendezvous point.

The man is Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) who talks to Otilia about what to do as he's supposed to meet Gabita. Otilia revealed what has happened as Gabita had messed things up for the meeting. Later revealing that she's four months pregnant instead of three, Gabita is desperate for the abortion as Mr. Bebe makes some news about what he must do and such while both women are short on money. Bebe reveals the warning of an illegal abortion which means he could spend 10 years in jail while the two women would also be in trouble. Otilia decides to make Bebe an offer he couldn't refuse but as temporary payment. During the abortion, Bebe gives them a warning about what to do with the fetus. After his departure, Otilia decides to leave to attend dinner at Adi's as she is furious at Gabita for her lies.

At the dinner party, Otilia meets Adi's parents and some friends where she meets all of them but sits in silence. Worried about Gabita, she tells Adi privately about what's going on as she heard a phone call earlier as she wonders what is happening. After leaving the party early, she returns to the hotel as she ponders all that had just happened.

The film is essentially a thriller of sorts but not a conventional thriller with lots of chills and suspense. Instead, it all takes place on an entire day from the perspective of the person who is helping her friend have this abortion. Considering the political climate of the time where abortion was illegal, it shows the consequences of what would happen. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu creates a drama that is chilling though the suspense doesn't come until the second and third act. He sets it up without giving the audience an idea of what's going on until later. Instead, he follows Otilia in her journey to get some money, meet her boyfriend, and then have a rendezvous with Mr. Bebe. What transpires is a series of events in which Otilia learns about the lies that Gabita made just to get the abortion while listening to things Mr. Bebe had to say.

Mr. Bebe might seem like a villainous character but instead, he's a man that is just doing a duty but gives warnings about what could happen as well as some consequences if things go wrong. What they had to do for him as payment is something neither women would think would happen it's the harsh realities they have to face. For Otilia, it's a disillusioning moment for her as what Mr. Bebe says, there's a price to be paid. The price is that of the friendship of Otilia and Gabita, the latter of whom is naive, timid, and at times, dishonest. When Otilia later tells her boyfriend Adi about what happened. He reveals his feelings for abortion as it puts a strain on their relationship forcing Otilia to do things that would change her life, even in the decision about what happens in this event.

Mungiu's direction is entrancing with its mostly hand-held work and still shots to convey the sense of drama and suspense that is unfolding. The hand-held work is slightly shaky in scenes to follow Otilia in her dorm and such while in some scenes, it's very still. There's shots that are long but it's always because Mungiu is being very attentive to what is happening. Even in a conversation piece as it's focused on a character while the voice of another is heard. By the third act, there's a moment of suspense where something could go wrong as the camera continues to follow Otilia in this traumatic journey with a scene that is too disgusting to watch as Mungiu doesn't shy away on what is shown. The reaction of course, would be of disgust but works for its drama. The overall work of what Mungiu does is truly superb in both the writing, direction, and presentation of the story.

Cinematographer Oleg Mutu brings a tinted yet saturated look to the film in many of the bright, day-time exterior and interior scenes. Even in some darkly-lit scenes, there's an intimacy to the camera but also something that is rough but not grainy. There's even scenes with very little light, it doesn't have the kind of Hollywood polish or over-lit cinematography style as Mutu's work is phenomenal. Editor Dana Bunescu does great work in the use of jump-cuts and smooth transitions to give the film a rhythmic feel in the editing. Even as she lets the scene play out and knowing when not to cut except for some kind of emotional, dramatic impact as the editing is done superbly. Production designer Mihaela Poenaru does a fantastic job with the look of the hotel room that the girls stay in which is dark and drab along with the lobby outside of the room. Even the look of the home of Adi's parents have a richness that is sharp contrast to the harsh world that everyone else is going through.

Costume designer Dana Istrate does fantastic work with the clothing choices for the cast from the green and blue shirts that Otilia wears to the simple, brown-like clothing that Gabita wears to contrast their personalities and such. Also serving as a sound editor, Dana Bunescu along with Constantin Fleancu and recordist Cristian Tarnovetchi, the sound is phenomenal, notably in the third act to create a level of chilling sounds and such for its suspense. The film has no music score throughout the film except a song at the final credits by a Romanian singer.

The casting by Catalin Dordea is superb with its array of actors including Adi Carauleanu as Adi's father and from Moartea domnului Lazarescu, Luminita Gheorghiu as Adi's mother. In the role of Adi, Alexandru Potocean is excellent as Otilia's boyfriend who is concerned about Otilia's behavior only to realize what is happening though his feelings towards abortion seems to get the best of him. Vlad Ivanov is great as Mr. Bebe, the abortionist who seems mean only to warn the two women about the implication of what could happen as well as how much trouble both could be. Ivanov has this eerie presence where he could do things to them that are troubling as it's a great role from the actor.

Laura Vasiliu is very good as Gabita, the young woman seeking an abortion to naively believe that to lie about things would go smoothly. Instead, her lies, timid behavior, and lack of intelligence gets her into some serious trouble with Otilia and Mr. Bebe as it's a harrowing performance from Vasiliu. The film's best performance easily goes to Anamaria Marinca as Otilia. Marinca's performance is truly entrancing as we see her character handle everything while struggling with all that is going on with her and Gabita. It's definitely one of the best performances that was unjustly overlooked in many critics circle as well as a breakthrough for the Romanian actress.

4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a harrowing yet provocative masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu featuring a superb, powerful performance from Anamaria Marinca. Audiences new to the Romanian New Wave will see this film as the best place to start. It's a film that is truly an unconventional thriller that pushes the edge of its constraints while adding a dose of realism and political surroundings to the story. It's not an easy film to watch and certainly one that will challenge anyone's beliefs about the idea of abortion. In the end, 4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile is a mesmerizing yet eerie masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu.

(C) thevoid99 2011


Unknown said...

An excellent film that seemed to come out of nowhere, still waiting anxiously for Mungiu to make another movie.

Have you seen many other Romanian new wave films?

thevoid99 said...

The only other film I've seen is The Death of Mr. Lazarescu which I might post next week.

Alex Withrow said...

What an excellent review of an excellent film. I must rewatch this. Right Now.

"harrowing yet mesmerizing masterpiece from Cristian Mungiu..." that's for damn sure.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-It's definitely a film any film buff must see or have. I'm hoping that it gets a Criterion release. We need more access to the Romanian New Wave.