(2007) dir. Cristian Mungiu
A harsh and harrowing thriller of sorts, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a Romanian film about a woman who helps her friend to get and illegal abortion in 1987, the late years of the Nicolae Ceauşescu-era Communist regime, one of the darkest and considered most-backward of all Eastern Europe in that time. I say thriller “of sorts” because this is not about car chases, spies, bombs, machine guns, and the only death is that of a fetus aged to the date of the movie’s title. And it’s a brutal experience, this film.
Aligned in the media as a sample of the Romanian New Wave (such as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), and Police, Adjective (2009)), the film shares with those others a portrait of Romania that probably galls the tourism board (as noted by writer/cultural pundit Prince Gomolvilas), a country permanently under grey sodden skies, comprised of morose Soviet-era structures, and streets eternally slick with yesterday’s rain. The portrait of Bucharest isn’t the pure heart of the film, but rather a tale of desperation, sacrifice, sublimation, and the threat of jail time.
While certainly in America, where abortion is largely legal, the debate on the rightness of the termination of a fetus at various points along its incubation is split pretty severely, the film isn’t so much in question of the rightness or wrongness of the act. It’s a crime in Romania 1987. That’s why the two college roommates rent a hotel room and hire on a highly dodgy, yet straightforward man who is willing to perform the abortion (with dubious reason). Everything is secretive.
Even if it was sunny outside, the women are still at the mercy of the system, the rules, the hotels, the police, and even the illegal doctor. The women have to put themselves through great humiliation and downright abuse, which speaks to the extremity of their desperation. And writer/director Cristian Mungiu very effectively manages tensions and terrors in almost benign ways. When the abortion is performed, it’s not gruesome or explicit, but I was clenching my jaw throughout the scene.
Of the few Romanian films that I’ve seen, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a standout. While they all employ a downbeat semi-verite style, slow and morose, this film is intense. Its intensity belies its slow build, its long takes, its lack of musical soundtrack, its humdrum settings. And while it’s hard to get excited perhaps about seeing a film whose topic is abortion, so politicized, dramatic, yet morally complex, this film really transcends much of that. It’s humanist and hard work.