In 1966, abortion became illegal in Romania and President Ceausescu's hated wife Elena created public health and economic crises by eliminating birth control and denying the existence of AIDs. In 1987, nearing the end of Nicolae Ceausescu's 25 year rule when he and his wife were executed for crimes against the state and genocide, a young college student, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca, "Youth Without Youth"), slips into a nightmare as she tries to assist her roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) with an illegal abortion, not realizing her friend has been expecting for "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days."
Writer/director Cristian Mungiu, whose film has won the Palme d'Or at Cannes as well as the European Film Award and several international critics prizes but shamefully did not make the short list of Foreign Language Films chosen by the Academy, has delivered a taut, emotional gut wrench of a film depicting the horrors facing women in tyrannical societies. Sisterhood and survival thematically run through Mungiu's film, sometimes lightly but most often not.
In a shabby, institutional dorm, Otilia spends her morning alternately trading for goods - everything from shampoo, to cigarettes to "Juno's" Orange Tic Tacs to powdered milk for the kittens also on offer - and keeping Gabita (whose last name, Dragut, means nice in English) on a prearranged schedule. She hastily visits boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean, "The Death of Mister Lazarescu") to beg out of his mother's birthday party that evening, but Adi is so upset she not only relents but agrees to bring the flowers.
When Otilia arrives at the hotel room Gabita's presumably booked, she encounters the first of many problems caused by her less responsible friend and is forced to fork over more ill-afforded cash for different arrangements than had been agreed. Things become even more uncomfortable when she meets black market abortionist Bebe (Vlad Ivanov, resembling French actor Aurélien Recoing and encompassing both good cop and bad cop in one creepily psychotic performance) at the agreed upon place only to be chastised for not being Gabita herself and not having secured a hotel room in one of his specified locales. Once in the room with Gabita, who has also forgotten the plastic sheet she was to bring, tense negotiations reveal Gabita's biggest lie, and the harrowing decision Otilia must make to keep the deal in place.
Not to be flip, but "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" is like Martin Scorcese's "After Hours" with the direst consequences and none of the comedy. Otilia crisscrosses the city of Bucharest, making arrangements and keeping appointments, which include forgetting to bring the flowers to Gina Radu's (Luminita Gheorghiu, "The Death of Mister Lazarescu") birthday gathering and sitting tensely within a "Last Supper" tableau listening to the chatter of the Radu's physician friends discussing various means of dying Easter eggs, a black irony. Anxious to return to check on Gabita's status, the woman who began her day providing milk for kittens will face the full horror of the day's deed on the hotel room's bathroom floor.
Laura Vasiliu may be the actress central to the film's subject, but it is Anamaria Marinca's film. She embodies a pretty young blond who must exhibit the steeliest of resolve to help a fellow woman in need and the grimness of the day and night's events gradually wear into her face and figure. Vlad Ivanov is one of the wiliest villains in recent memory, another survivor in a brutal world albeit one who exists in the shadows.
Wisely choosing to do without a musical score, Mungiu gives his film a feel of bleak reality, ably assisted by cinematographer Oleg Mutu's ("The Death of Mr. Lazarescu") grey/green/blue pallet. Interiors are dingy, most notably that fateful rented room whose outside lobby is worthy of Lynch. The film's final scene, where the girls repair pale and exhausted to a gloomy dining room where a sympathetic waiter offers to fetch them some food from an ongoing wedding - pork, liver, breaded brain and marrow - reiterates how these two young woman must confront the facts of life in their basest fleshy sadness.
Robin gives "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" a B+.
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