Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Movie Review: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile) (2007) 10/10
In 1987, in Romania, abortion is illegal and the populace, under Ceauşescu, is tightly controlled. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) helps her college roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) obtain an abortion. (In Romanian, with subtitles)

In 2007, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palm d'or, which is the Cannes Film Festival's "best picture" award. Despite its extraordinary acclaim, it wasn't even on the shortlist of films considered for the Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination. Not just wasn't nominated; wasn't submitted. Which created a long series of discussions in online film blogs about how the Foreign Language films are selected for Academy Awards and how Byzantine the process is, and that's how this remarkable film came to my attention.

During the course of the film, there is at one point an extended discussion about how far along Gabita is. The abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) believes Gabita has lied to him. Perhaps she has. She wants an abortion and doesn't want anything to interfere. Is two months easier? Is three? What if it's a second trimester abortion? The abortionist points out his jail sentence would be much worse if he were caught. He is angry, he uses the lie to browbeat the young women. Although it is never explained, the suggestion is that the film's title describes the actual length of the pregnancy.

I don't watch many foreign films, not because I'm plebeian (which I am), but because I feel like I can't truly grasp the filmmaker's intention. Seen in Romania, the repressive, oppressive, Big Brother regime of the 1980s is utterly familiar. Seen in the U.S., I am learning as I go. Are there things the filmmaker took for granted that his audience would know? Am I missing the context? When I watched With a Friend Like Harry, I wondered, was Harry's sex talk at the dinner table a sign of his poor boundaries? Or a sign that it's a French film? Of course, I sometimes have that experience with U.S. films. Like The Apostle; I spent most of the movie thinking What? What? Why? What? Texas revival Christianity is a foreign language to me, just as Romanian is.

But then, if you avoid foreign films entirely, you miss jaw-dropping movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. It's the naturalism, perhaps, that is so amazing. The movie takes place over the single day of the abortion. The women wax their legs, bum cigarettes, pack, complain to each other. There is no music at all, no beauty to be seen, and tension builds from nowhere, from the simple facts of the matter. Gabita appears to be not very bright; too helpless by half. Otilia helps her because she is smarter and more able, but also because she knows that it is important to help your friends when they need help. As the film progresses, we see her anger, and her fear, and how very dangerous this all is.

This is a dark movie, with seriously disturbing images. Watching it before bedtime was a mistake. But it's an amazing movie, one that should definitely be seen.

(1 Cross-post, 2 Blogs)