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    4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

    Knocked around

    The relentlessly uncomfortable Romanian film "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days" follows two women's descent into the harsh world of illegal abortions under communism.


    There is exactly one funny moment in "4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days," and it's in the closing credits, when the film is identified as one installment in the series "Tales from the Golden Age."

    4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS & 2 DAYS
    Original title: 4 luni, 3 saptam‰ni si 2 zile.
    Written and directed by: Cristian Mungiu.
    Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alexandru Potocean, Ion Sapdaru, Teodor Corban, Tania Popa, Cerasela Iosifescu, Doru Ana, Eugenia Bos‰nceanu, Marioara Sterian.
    Cinematography: Oleg Mutu.
    Edited by: Dana Bunescu.
    In Romanian with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    If pre-1989 was the "Golden Age" in Romania, just imagine what the bad old days must have been like.

    "4 Months" is a film that aims to be unrelentingly uncomfortable, and succeeds. It's a story about a college girl, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who needs an illegal abortion, and, even more, about her more responsible dormmate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), who helps her through the ordeal.

    And it turns out to be a more tortuous and frightful ordeal than either may have imagined. There's a certain kind of movie you see frequently from the Middle East — the story about the day when something needed to get done and every single thing went wrong along the way — and this is a cousin to that genre. Every step on their journey leads to a next step that's worse.

    Under the repressive Ceausescu regime, everything is done under the state's pervasive eye — and yet everything is casually available, for a price. The script is sprinkled with the names of American products — cigarettes, breath mints, detergent — that have become underground status markers for the culture's youngsters. Abortions are a little more difficult — nobody's standing around hotel lobbies handing them out.

    4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days  
    To get an abortion, you have to follow the practitioner's instructions precisely, which our two young women, of course, fail to do. As the man, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), explains, complete trust is essential to the transaction: One foul-up can land all of them in jail for several years. Even longer, as it turns out, thanks to a lie that Gabi has told Bebe — that she's only two months pregnant.

    "Why did you tell him that?" Otilia asks her friend about her latest blunder.

    "I thought it would be best," Gabita answers.

    "Best to stop thinking," Otilia says sourly.

    Gabita is actually something like four months pregnant — and depending on the exact length of time, they could all be charged with murder, the abortionist notifies them. With more risk, there's a higher price — and now the devil wants their souls along with their carefully scrounged U.S. dollars.

    With any movie about abortion comes the question of an agenda, and it's possible that "4 Months" has one. But the story unfolds with some subtlety, and it weaves together themes of state repression, individuals striving for freedom, and a forthrightness about sexuality, along with the girls' psychological horror story.

    You might come away feeling repulsed by the abortion process itself — and that may in fact be the movie's whole purpose — but also by the maze of danger, exploitation and misery that the repressive law puts our two heroines through. Or you could just as well step back, abandon judgement, and accept "4 Months" as a simple, and moving, piece of human experience.

    MAY 24, 2008

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