December 23, 2007

MOVIES: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

The Romanian film that won at Cannes this year is having a one-week Oscar qualifying run here in Los Angeles; it opens for real (if you're in a large enough city to get foreign-language movies at all) in February.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is set in 1987; Communism hasn't completely collapsed yet, but it's on the verge. Bribery and black markets are a routine part of life; petty bureaucrats and minor officials revel in abusing the tiny powers that have been allotted to them. And on this particular day, college student Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is helping her roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain an illegal abortion.

The abortion takes place in a cheap hotel room, and we spend a fair amount of time worried that something will go horribly wrong, but 4 Months isn't that kind of movie. It's not even a movie about abortion, really; it's more about the dehumanizing effects of living in so utterly corrupt a society. The hellish challenges involved in arranging an abortion come to feel like just another day of life as usual in Romania; bribe this one, suck up to that one, make these semi-legal plans and schemes.

The performances are superb. Anamaria Marinca plays a lot of scenes without speaking, and her face communicates every flicker of emotion. There's a long scene, for instance, where she's at a miserable dinner party with her boyfriend's family (while Gabita lies in that hotel room); for close to five minutes, her silent face holds the screen and tells us more than all of the foolish small talk going on around her.

Vlad Ivanov, as the abortionist Bebe, is also excellent, hiding his fury and vicious rage behind a facade of pleasantries and polite instruction.

It's a very intense movie, and some may find it difficult to watch, but it's remarkably good movie making, and I recommend it highly.

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