Thursday, 10 March 2011

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

2007. Dir: Cristian Mungiu. Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu, Alexandru Potocean and Ion Sapdaru. ●●●●○

In January Alex, of Alex in Movieland (if you're not a regular reader already check out both his blogs - his reviews are always a delight to read even if I don't always agree), won the 20 for 2011 competition and tasked me with reviewing the Palme D'Or winning Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I was glad to be given such a serious task and it's one I hope I can rise to the challenge of.

Cristian Mungiu's film is a major landmark the resurgence of the Romanian film industry, when grouped with 2005's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Police, Adjective in 2009 as well as a number of less well-known but equally revered output we can see how Romania is leading the way in Eastern European cinema with this movement characterised within the scope of social realism.

Set during the last gasps of Communists dictatorships before the collapse of the iron curtain 4 Months nevertheless focuses on universal truths as relevant in 80's Bucharest as many areas of the globe today. Anywhere the state restricts personal freedoms or where girls must resort to backstreet abortionists to resolve their mistakes. The story revolves around student Otilia (superbly played by Anamaria Marinca) as she aids her friend and roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) to arrange an illegal termination and to deal with the aftermath.

Throughout the process Otilia is hindered by Gabi's inability to admit to the size and scope of the issue, the petty bureaucracy of the times and the calm, menacing Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) who they've contracted for the job. At the same time her relationship with her middle class boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean) is reaching a critical juncture complicated by her duty to aid her friend.

Marinca gives a shatteringly intense performance, believably pragmatic in the early scenes and understandably terse following Bebe's visit. Each look and gesture is nuanced and real, creating a living, breathing characterisation.

The supporting cast also do great jobs, but their impact is lesser due to the enormity of Marinca's performance. Ivanov is suitably sleazy (he is no Vera Drake) and whilst Vasiliu comes off as vacuous and demanding it's probably a conscious choice of the production.

Director Mungiu and cinematographer Oleg Mutu elect to use long static takes which emphasises the tension brought by the actors, even when they're hovering just off-screen with just a knee or a voice for the audience to pick up on. This also highlights the realism of the piece, as an audience member I felt I was just there with the actors. There is also no flinching from what is being done, the film would appear to have an open mind about the ethics of abortion however there are enough pro-life images (from Bebe's cruelty to the bloody foetus) to indicate a bias towards the pro-life camp.

Mungiu, who also wrote the script, manages to keep the audience guessing what's going on for the first third of the movie; it's a shame that the DVD sleeve gives the abortion centred plot away as I would have liked the opportunity to work that out. There's also clear indications of Otilia's place in society and probable future in the subtle writing however later in the movie the dinner table chatter of Adi's parents rather laboured the class differences and undone some of that good work.

It's not a perfect movie by any means, the measured pace sometimes flirts with boredom, and there are a few loose ends mainly prop related, but overall I would say whilst grim the movie is utterly involving and deserves a wider audience.


Alex in Movieland said...

thanks for posting! :D i did too.

as soon as I happily solve my home problems (hope so!) in a couple of weeks, maybe we could also try the other thing :P which we're keeping secret for now.

have a nice weekend.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Looking forward to it.