Monday, August 18, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Country: Romania

While I considered starting off this multi-cultural blog with a bit of patriotism (specifically the recent, excellent and Canadian The Tracey Fragments, which I'll most likely write about after a deserved second viewing), this highly celebrated pick is just as good a place to begin.

Winner of the Palme D'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is merely one of several critically acclaimed films to come out of Romania in the past few years, comprising what many are calling a Romanian New Wave. Among them are The Way I Spent the End of the World, 12:08 East of Bucharest, California Dreamin' (Endless) and the excellent, tragi-comic The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, which I also saw along with 4 Months. Just from these two films alone, this looks like a very interesting and worthwhile bunch of flicks to check out.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is set on a single day in 1987 when Romania was deep in the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. It primarily focuses on Otilia, a young student who helps her friend, Gabita, get an abortion - an act classified as illegal at the time.

A chilling sense of paranoia runs through the entire film. Nothing is straight-up explained right away, and the viewer has to gradually piece together what Otilia and Gabita are up to and why they are so nervous doing it. Even little things such as negotiations with hotel clerks and Otilia's promise to come to her boyfriend's mother's birthday celebration (a well-played sub-plot) are rendered as troublesome obstacles in the way of the women's plan. The final touch being the drab, gray world of stark streets and shadowy alleyways (particularly terrifying in the final moments of the film), 4 Months is positively Nineteen Eighty-Four-ish, and this Ceausescu-era Romania could just as easily be Winston Smith's Oceania, with agents of Big Brother lurking around every corner.

Cinematographer Oleg Mutu and writer/director Cristian Mungiu bring a cold, metallic look to this film, strictly keeping to a cool palette (with flashes of blue and green from Otilia's wardrobe providing the most color). Very often, still-life compositions are presented and maintained in long, rigidly-framed takes, with the camera patiently lingering on certain things and people as the drama unfolds before it (or just beyond its view, in some cases). This isn't show-off-y, Paul Thomas Anderson stuff, but simply smart camerawork which takes a step back and lets the film move at its own pace.

The film is anchored by a strong tri-fecta of performances: Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu as the two heroines and Vlad Ivanov as the strict-natured and ironically named Mr. Bebe whom they call upon to help them. Though it was written and directed by a man, 4 Months could easily be seen as a feminist film, as it tackles a distinctly feminine conflict as seen through the perspective of two women (and does it well). At the very least, it delivers a strong message about women and their relationship to the system (and men) regarding a topic as personal as abortion.

Though it's a bit of a downer note to start on regarding story content, 4 Months is nonetheless a gripping, well-made film which firmly reinforces my trust of the Palme D'or over the Best Picture Oscar (though less said about the time Oldboy was shafted in favor of Fahrenheit 9/11 the better).

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