A film’s adornment with the Cannes Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) brings considerable expectations by an informed audience. When I saw Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, other than knowing it tackled the subject of abortion, and that it had won the
The film is set in 1987, towards the end of the communist era, in Gradually, we learn that Otilia is making arrangements for Gabita's clandestine and illegal abortion.
Gradually, we learn that Otilia is making arrangements for Gabita's clandestine and illegal abortion.
The opening scene’s use of shaky hand-held camera (a pet hate) gave me reservations that thankfully proved unfounded. The cinematography is generally excellent, and the cinéma vérité style produces a strong sense of reality and immediacy as we follow the characters. The apparent use of a digital camera allowed the flexibility to film within small rooms as if one were a fly on the wall witnessing the action. There are fabulous long takes in which we witness the unedited talent of the main actors who display excellent emotions and timing. Mungiu has selected an excellent cast and extracted remarkable performances that are both naturalistic and convincing.
There are various themes that the film covers or depicts:
- pregnancy as the natural consequence of sex
- the tendency of youth to disregard the consequences of sex
- the corrupt nature of communism and how social repression pushes various activities underground
- how impersonal was life under communism
- most importantly, the terrible consequences of removing the availability of abortion as a legal option for women
As a youth, I remember my mother talking about the days when women risked death and abortionists risked jail (up to fifteen years in
Regardless of the morality or ethics of abortion, the social and other consequences of lack of access to it are just too great. This film clearly illustrates this point in a matter-of-fact manner without moralising or proselytising. Mungiu is neither promoting nor denouncing abortion. The film could even be used by so-called pro-lifers to attack abortion. Overwhelmingly, though, a reasonable person seeing this film would conclude that the social cost of banning abortion is too great. Those who would turn back the clock to those pre-Wainer days should go see this film and remind themselves what barbaric options women will take should abortion go underground again.
The only other film I can recall that tackles similar territory to this film was Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake. Both films are very different. Leigh’s film takes the perspective of the abortionist, a caring woman who performs what she considers an important social function for which she is punished. Vera Drake is more stylised than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It is a powerful film, but is topped by this newer film.
Mungiu’s film is more realist, and takes the perspective of the pregnant woman (or rather the friend assisting the pregnant woman). The abortionist in the film, Mr. Bebe, is portrayed dispassionately and reasonably objectively. Some may see him as a pig of a man, greedy and uncaring. Some I have spoken to got that impression. I like Mungiu’s use of ambiguity. Mr. Bebe saw himself as a nice enough person and, while I don’t think he was as nice and altruistic as he may have like to convince himself, I do think there was some honorable intention there. Each viewer can ponder this.
The cultural aspect of the film is fascinating. The way individuals interact with each other, particularly on a professional level, affirms many films made in different communist countries at different times, by different directors and of different genres. When one person serves another in a shop or hotel, there is at best indifference or at worst contempt, rather than the service mentality that we expect. Bureacracy is everywhere and with it, distrust and demands for identity papers for nearly every trivial transaction.
The black market is everywhere in the film. People trade with a nod and a wink. Kent cigarettes are high in demand, and people go to great lengths and pay a small fortune to get them (it cost more for a packet of Kent as it did for a hotel room for a night). Perhaps it was an image thing.
Mungiu has stated that his film is not a critique of communism, but just a backdrop for a very personal story – the film depicts the experience of a friend of his. The credits in the film refer to Tales from the Golden Era, which seems at least a little sarcastic about life under communism.
Having seen the film twice (and it was at least as compelling on the second viewing), I found it interesting to note the way the relationship between the two women changes over the course of a day. The closing dialogue was one of the most poignant yet quietly understated endings I have seen in a film for a long time.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a profoundly moving and physically affecting film. It is social-realist film making at it’s very best. This is one of the best films of the year and I highly recommend it.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is screening exclusively at the Palace Como cinema and opens on Thursday.