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Film Review

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

Life in Eastern Europe under Communism was grim, often in ways that we can only dimly understand. Probably the best film screened in America in 2007, The Lives of Others, showed us the effect of surveillance and repression in East German. And now, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, shows us life in Romania in 1987, shortly before the revolution that toppled a truly evil regime. It is the riveting story of two young women, Otilia and Gabita, college roommates, one of whom is pregnant, and wants to have an abortion. Risky and difficult under the Ceausescu regime, who considered abortion a very serious crime with long prison sentences for anyone involved. It was state policy to encourage children to increase Romania's population, and discourage any means of preventing childbirth. Even contraceptives were highly illegal and nearly impossible to obtain, to say nothing of basic personal necessities. Life was grim and bleak. Against this background, we see one woman, Otilia, trying to help her friend, who is naive and nearly dysfunctional. Most will focus on the issue of abortion, but the real story here is the loyalty, courage, and devotion of one friend for another.

The entire story takes place in one day and night. Everything is a struggle in Romania. After a series of misadventures in an attempt to rent a hotel room for the procedure, Otilia is able to contact the abortionist, Mr. Bebe, and ride with him to the hotel. Soon the story turns much darker. At the same time, Otilia, under pressure from her boyfriend, who has no idea what she is doing, has promised him that she will attend his mother's birthday party. She does, and we see her at the center of the table, quiet and being inundated with conversations while she is silently frantic with worry for her friend.

The director, Cristian Mungiu, uses a documentary film type technique throughout. Long handheld video camera takes that follow a character as she walks down long hallways into rooms and back again. Close-ups, including many of the backs of heads. Institutional settings, grim even in the western European countries, but absolutely threadbare and worn here. All of the characters have very restrained emotions, even when bad things happen. There is no music whatsoever, which heightens the already tense mood. There is a constant sense of danger and claustrophobia, and often scenes are set in poorly lit areas that seem ominous even in the daytime. The deliberately de-saturated colors add to this feeling. The acting is never less than brilliant, yet no one appears to be acting. This is a very powerful, intense, often disturbing film, and there were times that I found myself holding my breath, afraid to breathe.

This is a great film, and an important one. It is a powerful statement as to what life was under Communism, and the meaning of friendship. It resembles The Lives of Others in many ways, but its technique is less sophisticated, and for that, the more powerful. I found myself thinking of Juno, a good film, but which treated the issue of abortion and friendship in a much more trivialized way. 4 Months is its opposite, and a reality that none of us should ever forget or have to experience personally. Mungiu has done something very great and enduring here, and I urge you to see this masterpiece. Playing at the Embarcadero.

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