Movie Project #13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

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 [2007]

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007] 
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writers: Cristian Mungiu, Razvan Radulescu (script consultant)
Country: Romania, Belgium
Genre: Drama
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.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

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.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

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.


7 thoughts on “Movie Project #13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

  1. SDG says:

    First of all, major chops to you for watching this and Incendies on the same day. I could hardly handle one in a day! 🙂

    You know I love this one too. Another one that is quite difficult to get through but is worth every damn second of it. Plus, I am really glad that you mentioned how it focuses more on Otelia more despite basically being about Gabita and her situation because Anamaria Marinca does steal the show. However I definitely could have done without fetus shot! I wish I could unsee that. 😦

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Haha thanks man. I didn’t plan on a double feature at first, but I’m glad it turned out that way. Two emotional movies, but both are near flawless in my eyes. Thanks again for introducing me to this film — it really blew me away.

  2. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    You watched Incendies and this film on the same day? Wow. Either one left me so tired and emotionally numb I couldn’t imagine watching them back to back.
    Having said that, we don’t quite see eye-to-eye on this one. I have two main issues regarding this film. The first is Gabita. Though I am sensitive to her situation and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, I ultimately found her to be really immature and selfish, which eventually aggravates the problem she is facing and raises the stakes for her good friend. For this reason, it was hard for me to empathize with her, and I found Otilia to be too selfless for her own good.
    My second issue is with the subject matter itself and how it’s presented. I believe there is a fine line that great dramas manage to toy with but never cross. There is, for example, Schindler’s List just to cite one. That was a movie that is extremely sad, but I took away the resilience of some of the characters and the good spirit of Oskar Schindler and how his character changed in his attitude towards the war. In the case of 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, I was left wondering about whether the struggle and the risks they took were worth it. After all, this is an abortion, something that could have been prevented, but is instead pursued almost blindly. In other words, there is no real payoff for all of the suffering, which just makes the film that more depressing and shocking. In fact, I vowed never to see it again even though I respect what it tried to do. Mind you, I gave it a 3.5/5, so I did not find it completely abhorrent.

    Great review!

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      You are 100% right about Gabita. She is immature, selfish and a terrible friend. I had no empathy for her, but I did feel for Otilia. Even though Otilia was a bit of a pushover, she was just trying to help out the people she loved. I also thought Anamaria Marinca’s performance was amazing, and she made it easy to feel her character’s pain.

      In regards to your second issue, I think what the film was emphasizing was that this is just how things were in 1980s Romania. Abortions were outlawed, forcing those who wanted them to pursue illegal means, often dealing with shady characters like the man in the film. There is no real payoff simply because that’s what life was like in Romania back then. Nothing would change until Ceausescu’s regime ended.

      Glad you were able to find some value out of the film though. And thanks for the many insightful comments over the last couple days!

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