That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile)

Sunday, March 9th, 2008 8:54 pm—Film

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania 2007, Drama), Writer/Director: Cristian Mungiu

[Spoiler Alert: I give away a few plot points, but none that aren’t revealed relatively early in the movie. And this film’s worth lies in the telling at least as much—if not more—as in the story itself.]

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days packs a solid punch. It’s incredibly powerful. But it doesn’t throw any quick jabs. Instead, it plays out slowly with very few cuts. Writer/director Cristian Mungiu pulls back the curtains on several moments in a difficult day in a young woman’s life, and lets us watch what unfolds.

The film opens with two students in a dorm room in 1980s communist Romania: Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu). Otilia has just agreed to help Gabita with something, but we don’t know at first what that something is. It soon becomes clear that she has committed to helping Gabita get an illegal abortion.

And so begins Otilia’s day. We follow her on the bus; trying to get her favourite brand of cigarettes, which happens to be on the black market; re-arranging plans with her boyfriend; trying to book a hotel room for the abortion; meeting Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the man who will perform the abortion.

The way in which the day’s dark and disturbing events are mixed in with the minutia of Otilia’s everyday life is disconcerting. Lying appears to come very easily to her, presumably a result of the nanny state she grew up in. The ease with which she moves from running errands, to arranging an illegal abortion for a friend who is nearly five months pregnant, makes you wonder what other terrible things Otilia has had to endure just to survive.

Because Mungiu lets most of his scenes play out in a single long shot, we see Otilia’s life in greater detail than most films allow; little slices of life cut out from a very heavy day. The dinner scene in which Otilia first meets her boyfriend’s parents is one of my favourites. Otilia is packed into the middle of the crowded frame, flanked by her boyfriend’s relatives and family friends. She’s visibly uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically. The scene plays without cutting to the dinner guests who sit off-camera. Instead, the focus is on Otilia as she tries to cope with the tedious and needling conversation, all the while preoccupied with Gabita’s plight back at the hotel. We begin to feel as trapped as Otilia.

Another wonderful moment takes place when Otilia checks in to the hotel. The details of the conversation between Otilia and the receptionist are impeccable. It’s the kind of thing that might seem boring in real life, but because it’s captured on camera it becomes imbued with a larger-than-life quality; it somehow takes on greater importance and meaning.

As a result of its heavy subject matter, some of the “everyday” detail in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a little hard to take. The scene in which Bebe very matter-of-factly describes the procedure really upset me. I felt nauseous, faint, even shaky; completely knocked off my feet. It took me awhile to peel myself off the ropes and unfurl for the rest of the movie.

The abortion scene itself I couldn’t watch. I had hoped that it would happen off-camera, as another of the film’s upsetting moments does. But no such luck. From the little I did see, Mungiu doesn’t show anything graphic or gory. The scene was shot from a side angle. But just knowing what was going on was more than I could handle; I had to close my eyes and plug my ears for most of it.

Despite the fact that even writing about those two scenes has me feeling a little queasy, Mungiu clearly knows how to get as much impact out of what he doesn’t show as what he does. When Bebe demands money that the women don’t have before agreeing to carry out the procedure, Otilia consents to having sex with him as a tradeoff. But instead of showing us what takes place, we leave the room with Gabita and wait with her in the bathroom, sharing in her dreadful anticipation, imagining the worst.

When it’s over, Otilia rushes in to the bathroom wearing only her t-shirt. It’s perhaps the least gratuitous example of film nudity that I can think of. Gabita rushed out of the hotel room without a thought about getting dressed; her only concern was getting away from Bebe and washing him from her body.

I was shocked to discover that this film was written and directed by a man. I’m sorry if that offends, but to find that a man could have such empathy and appreciation for these things—a woman’s perspective on love and sex; her moods, which are presented here as having perfectly logical, understandable explanations; the emotional impact of a man invading her body, whether invited or not, whether medical or sexual—and that he would feel compelled to write about them, is not something you come across every day. I think it’s wonderful that he put this film out there.

I highly recommend 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The actors are outstanding, particularly Marinca who appears in every scene and absolutely carries the film. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a recent movie with as much impact; as a testament to this, it won the top prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or.

You might still be able to catch the film in some repertory theatres, and it’ll be available to rent soon. Just be forewarned that it deals with some heavy subject matter. And if you’re at all squeamish about gynecological topics, you may need to plug your ears and avert your eyes for some of the film. I’m still reeling from a couple of those scenes.

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