light winds
two of my favorite ladies

#44: 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (cristian mungiu, 2007)

(This is the 7th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

It’s easy to explain the premise of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but as with so many great movies, even an accurate description of the premise would give no hint of what makes the film so good. A young student in late-80s Romania needs an abortion, and asks her roommate for help. It sounds quite dreary in a Vera Drake kind of way, dreary and extremely depressing. But it's also brilliant. The director's touches draw our attention, but soon enough we realize they aren't there just to impress, but to serve the drama. And the matter-of-fact portrayal of Romania under Ceauşescu is both enlightening and frightening. We see how life could seem both mundane and difficult, how repression could be so complete that people worked their way around it the same way we might accept the existence of commute traffic.

This is not really a movie about abortion. It is unlikely to change your opinion on that topic, and it isn’t particularly interested in doing so. What it is, among other things, is a noirish classic. The main characters get over their heads as they deal with the black market and the underworld that must exist in a totalitarian society. And when Anamaria Marinca, so good as Otilia, the helpful roommate, travels the streets attempting to clean up the mess she and others have caused, the thriller angle arises out of the feeling that someone is always watching you, that you are always one step from disaster.

Director Cristian Mungiu finds a place to put his camera that he thinks is appropriate for a scene, and he leaves it there for extended periods of time, letting the movie emerge from the stationary camera. Those long takes are impressive, particularly a dinner scene that is mentioned in virtually every review. Otilia is bullied by her boyfriend to attend a family celebration. She needs to be somewhere else; she needs to be helping her roommate, and at this moment, she has no idea if her roommate is OK. Anamaria Marinca is terrific in this scene ... you can't take your eyes off of her, even as the other dinner guests jabber on ... but the truth is, she's terrific in every scene.

 

Comments were largely in agreement. They liked the movie, some liked it a lot, but all noted that it was slow, and no one really wanted to see it again.

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