4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Cristian Mungiu's powerful film "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days," which won the Grand Prize at Cannes a year ago, is the story of the day of an abortion; an abortion in Ceausescu's Rumania in the early eighties, when abortion was illegal and would be punished by years in prison for both the abortionist and the patient. Otilia and Gabita are two college roommates in Bucharest; Gabita is pregnant; the title tells us how far along she is, though she has been a panicked little bird throughout; you just want to shake her and tell her to take some responsibility. Instead, Otilia does it for her, making contact with the illegal abortionist, making a reservation at a hotel where it's to take place, handling the money, then staying with Gabita through the whole ordeal. And it is a hell of an ordeal, not just because Gabita is in her second trimester, a more dangerous time, but because the abortionist extracts an extra - call it a fee - from Otilia before he'll perform the abortion.
Mungiu has directed so well that we in the audience feel we're along for this horrendous ride. He has his camera simply following Otilia from the beginning to the end of this day. She's played by Anamaria Marinca, who is not beautiful but has the kind of look and manner that lets us see right into her thoughts and fears. And she turns out to be fearless even in the worst moments of her life. Otilia has a boyfriend, who insists that she come to his house at five PM that evening for his mother's birthday party. He even asks her to bring flowers as a gift; but Otilia won't, or can't, tell him of her plans for the day; finally she says yes, she'll be there, but it's obvious that she doesn't know if she will make it or not.
And then we're with the two women in the hotel as the aborionist arrives, a Mister Bebe, a wonderful performance in a thankless role by Vlad Ivanov. For that matter, even Gabita, the frightened bird, is open as an actress in letting us see that childishness.
But what's especially interesting about Mungiu's directing is that he's shot the film in what you might call the anti-Hollywood manner. Instead of cutting back and forth from one character to another, as would be done in an American studio film, something like a tennis match, he simply sets his camera in one place and lets the scene work itself out. He's perfectly willing to hold a shot for a minute or more while nothing overt is happening, because he knows he has our attention. So we watch as people think, or light a cigarette, or talk; they simply act as the rest of us would in the same situation.
"Four months, three weeks, two days" is a powerful film about a brutal era; it reminds us of what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned.