4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: Surviving the Age of Ceausescu


4months3weeks2daysIt started with the idea of making a satirical movie about life in Communist Romania. As the project grew, director Cristian Mungiu began to focus on a real-life story that he had heard many years ago and still affected him deeply. The final results became a portrayal of what his country looked like twenty years ago (when Mungiu himself was at the same age as the leading characters), but there are no satirical elements here. This movie is dead serious and shows perhaps how difficult it is to look at the regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu and crack a smile.

We are introduced to two college students in a Romanian town, Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela “Gabita” Dragut (Laura Vasiliu). The year is 1987 and since abortion is illegal, Otilia has decided to help her friend arrange one illegally. She ends up handling most of the preparations, including finding a hotel best suited for an abortion. Otilia also briefly meets with her boyfriend Adi (Alex Potocean) and agrees to join him and his family later that evening to celebrate his mother’s birthday, even though she knows that the abortion will take up most of her time. Then she brings the man who will perform the abortion, Viarel Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), to the hotel where Gabita is waiting.

Bebe is unhappy with the arrangement; not only are they in a hotel not recommended by him, but the girls also don’t have enough money to pay him. As the evening progresses, Otilia has to make quick decisions about how far she’s willing to go for a friend.

A challenge for the actors
This film became a much-lauded part of the Romanian New Wave movement, along with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005). The camera is very static (except for a hand-held camera sequence), with long takes; a challenge for the actors who deliver much dialogue in these scenes, but they do so admirably. Marinca is very good as Otilia, the student who does unspeakable things for her best friend, even though the sacrifices seem too large for the hopelessly irresponsible Gabita to understand; Ivanov is also worth a look as the cold abortionist, a man who never hesitates to use every ounce of his power when dealing with “clients”, both verbally and physically.

Pro-choicers and pro-lifers won’t have a problem finding arguments for their causes. The situation described in this film is what happens in a society that bans abortions, forcing young, pregnant women to risk their lives. But there’s also a horrifying scene where Otilia finds the aborted fetus on the bathroom floor; because of the long takes, the director forces us to look at it and contemplate a being that would have turned into a little baby. Both sides of the abortion debate are certainly covered.

In all honesty, the story is not terribly remarkable. What I found more gripping is the realistic portrayal of everyday life in a totalitarian Communist state like Romania. The government’s obsessive need to control its people with the use of ID cards is perceived as normal… but so is a pleasant dinner midway through the film. People find a way to survive and make the most out of circumstances even under the worst of dictatorships.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 2007-Romania. 113 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Cristian Mungiu, Oleg Mutu. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. Cast: Anamaria Marinca (Otilia Mihartescu), Laura Vasiliu (Gabriela Dragut), Vlad Ivanov (Viarel Bebe), Alex Potocean, Ioan Sapdaru, Teo Corban.

Trivia: 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile.

Cannes: Palme d’Or. European Film Awards: Best Film, Director.

Last word: “It demonstrates that, although you might resist without solving anything, at least you had a reaction. It was important for me to show that some people were much more aware than others of what was going on at this time. Most people, though, just act from day to day and don’t think about the consequences. I thought it was important to make this film to emphasize that there are still people today in Romania who act without thinking about the consequences. After being forced to have children during the Ceausescu years, there were about a million abortions in Romania after it was made legal – as if people didn’t realize that there was another kind of contraception.” (Mungiu, Cineaste)

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