The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days 
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writers: Cristian Mungiu, Razvan Radulescu (script consultant)
Country: Romania, Belgium
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu
Running Time: 113 minutes
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film about abortion, but it is one that looks at it from a rare unbiased perspective. Set in late 1980s Romania during the waning years of Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, Cristian Mungiu’s film is unflinching, to-the-point and downright unnerving.
Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is a young college student who desires to have an abortion (illegal under Ceausescu’s rule). She enlists the aid of her dorm roommate, Otilia (the flawless Anamaria Marinca), to contact a black market abortionist and prepare a hotel room to arrange the operation.
There are numerous flaws with this plan from the get-go. The abortionist, a domineering middle-aged man named Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), provided a clear set of guidelines to follow before their meeting, nearly all of which Gabita failed to do. She did not place a reservation at his specified hotel, she sends Otilia to meet him first, and she even lies about the length of her pregnancy. This series of mistakes leads to an increasingly tense situation when all three of them are in the hotel room, raising the stakes to desperate levels.
There is a sense of pervading dread during this meeting, and this feeling is only exacerbated as the film goes on. Nearly every scene uses just one shot, during many of which the camera sits stationary. These extended takes add a sense of realism to the proceedings, and they are incredibly effective at portraying the thoughts and emotions of those on screen.
There is one scene in particular that I will never forget. At one point in the film, Otilia takes a brief excursion to go to a dinner party hosted by her boyfriend’s family. Despite Otilia’s insistence that she has urgent plans of her own, the boyfriend, Adi (Alexandru Potocean), refuses to take no for an answer. When she arrives at the party, everyone there is lively, talking loudly, drinking and having a great time. As this happens, we watch Otilia sitting at the table, quiet and alone in her thoughts despite being surrounded by others. The static camera sits at the opposite end of the table, and for what feels like hours we sit there right along with her. To an outsider, this scene could appear tedious and boring. For the rest of us, it is an exercise in exhaustion. We know exactly what is going through Otilia’s mind. She is thinking about her friend alone in the hotel room, wondering if she is okay. She is remembering the abortion from just hours ago while also considering what she had to do to help her friend. These are difficult enough thoughts as is, and it doesn’t help that this is her first time meeting her boyfriend’s parents and family. This scene lasts for several minutes, and as it went on I began growing more and more restless. There is the sense that Otilia might snap at any moment, and it’s just a matter of waiting to see if it will happen or not.
The entire film is set up like this, making for one of the most uncomfortable viewings I have had in some time. There is no score either, which adds even more to that on-edge feeling.
Although Gabita is the one getting the abortion, much of the film focuses on Otilia, and we see things primarily from her perspective. As such, Anamaria Marinca carries the brunt of the film on her shoulders, and she delivers a performance for the ages. There is never a moment where we don’t know what her character is thinking, even when she is there in silence.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2007 over many acclaimed films, including future Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men. Bafflingly, it did not pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. No matter; this is an extraordinary film that shines a light on a dark time in Romanian history, and it’s easily one of the strongest entries so far in this year’s project.