I was IMing with my nephew today, and he said something about how hard it is for him to watch movies that are 20+ years old, that is, made before he was born. He said he grew up in a time when movies tended to keep a fairly hectic pace, so when he watched older movies, they seemed slow to him and were hard to sit through.
He might have been talking about 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, even though this Romanian film is actually only a year old. At times, 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. At other times, the camera work flows nicely, but it's those long takes that are the most impressive, particularly a dinner scene where a young woman is invited to a family celebration. She sits in the middle of the show, all around her people talk and for the most part ignore her, she has some very important things on her mind that she can't talk about ... and the camera sits there, and the scene goes on and on and on. Actress 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.
But I can only imagine that my nephew would want to pull his eyes out of their sockets about halfway through that scene, if he hadn't already.
The basic situation is that a young student in late-80s Romania needs an abortion, and asks her roommate for help. That doesn't really get it ... as one critic noted, she asks her friend to do everything except have the actual abortion. 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.
Unlike my nephew, I tend to give my highest praise only to old movies. I'm not much for a literary canon, but when it comes to movies, it would appear that I believe in the old "stands the test of time" notion. I rarely give the top 10-out-of-10 rating to anything until I've seen it a billion times ... I've rated fewer than a dozen movies a "10" in the 21st century. But add 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to that list.