DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile) (director/writer: Cristian Mungiu; cinematographer: Oleg Mutu; editor: Dana Bunescu; cast: Anamaria Marinca (Otilia), Laura Vasiliu (Gabriela 'Gabita' Dragut), Vlad Ivanov (Viarel Bebe), Alexandru Potocean (Adi Radu), Ion Sapdaru (Dr. Rusu), Luminita Gheorghiu (Doamna Radu); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Cristian Mungiu/Oleg Mutu; IFC Films; 2007-Romania-in Romanian with English subtitles)

 
"A keenly observed and ferociously realistic somber political drama about an illegal abortion in the Romania of 1987."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A keenly observed and ferociously realistic somber political drama about an illegal abortion in the Romania of 1987, two years before the downfall of the ruthless dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, in the waning days of the Soviet bloc Communist rule. It's by the thirty-nine-year-old Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu ("West"); his intimate dark tale won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. It's a grim story that allows us to clearly see how the slimy abortion is arranged, how it's performed and its aftermath, as it's graphic enough to leave us no illusions about its dire consequences while at the same time telling us how the coeds involved have been de-humanized by living in a backward and corrupt police state that relies on the likes of the black market for them to even get the brand of cigarettes of their choice. It's a sordid place where seemingly nothing works, everything is at the mercy of a hopeless bureaucracy and just living is a hassle that ordinary people are forced to deal with in daring ways to survive such an oppressive regime that is both brutal and corrupt. It's a depressing country where checking into a drab hotel requires an ID check, where all the people seemed pale and drained of life, and where the dark nighttime streets look as damning as places one would envision in hell.

The film is shot bleached of color and in handheld 35mm by Oleg Mutu, giving it a distinctive documentary-like look and an unquestionable realistic feel that is hard to forget.

The frail, irresponsible and frightened Gabitha (Laura Vasiliu) shares a cramped dorm room with her more savvy, pragmatic and together roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), in a university in Bucharest that looks more like a prison than a place of higher education. Gabitha states to her roomie that she's two months pregnant and has arranged over the phone with a Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), a man instead of with a supposedly more sympathetic woman, to perform the illegal abortion procedure in a cheap hotel. She has also gotten Otilia to stay by her side to lend moral support and tend to ironing out the details of the sticky arrangement. As it turns out, Gabitha has purposely screwed up the arrangements with Bebe because she's really been pregnant for as long as the title says, putting off the inevitable as long as possible, as she knows if caught the abortionist now faces even more serious charges of murder—calling for a ten year prison sentence. 

Things go immediately bad, as Gabitha was supposed to meet with Bebe and not Otilia; the hotel Bebe wanted was not arranged for by Gabitha and now it's too late to get a room there and instead Otilia maneuvers to grab another cheap hotel where Bebe doesn't feel protected; and then the new price has to be negotiated as the gross Bebe wants more money because the stakes are higher. Otilia chooses to help her selfish, manipulative and untruthful shitty friend by fucking the predatory Bebe so that the procedure would take place that day instead of being delayed. The harried Otilia, pissed at the creepy abortionist, her unreliable user friend and the horrible country rushes off to a birthday dinner on the other side of town with her frustrated college boyfriend Adi's bourgeois parents, whom she is meeting for the first time, and their pompous professional friends, and feels out of place there in their trivial conversations and their cruel observations of her and she's furthermore despondent over what she's just been through. Otilia only ends up cross with her confused boyfriend before leaving the party early without any goodbyes to his parents, as she rushes back across town to check on Gabitha who never answers the phone when Otilia rings her.

It's a disturbing, unsentimental film that reads like an allegory about humanity versus inhumanity, where the actors' expressive faces tell us all we want to known about life in Communist Romania and then some. The profound drama offers a moving personal testimony to the dreaded days of the recent past and the repressed days the director seems to think are important to recall in the country's new days of freedom and apathy so the Romanians will not forget what life was like without personal freedom. But it's mainly a film for the viewer, in a non-judgmental way, to experience the shock of what a real-life illegal abortion is all about for the ladies and how no price can be put on pure friendship.

REVIEWED ON 5/3/2008        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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