Romania, 1987. Two young women living in a student hostel are arranging for one of them to have an abortion. Over the course of a day, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) takes the lead on behalf of her terrified and abject friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), while at the same time reaching a point of crisis with her boyfriend. When Bebe the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) arrives Otilia finds that more will be expected of her and her friend than money.
Marinca's resourceful Otilia, rather than her unfortunate friend, is the focus of this film, negotiating through the shortage, corruption, and individual bloodymindedness of Romania before the fall of Ceausescu, taking great personal risk in a country where all terminations are illegal and the penalties severe. The settings are evocative - the crowded student hostel where the residents barter black market cigarettes and soap, the hotels with malignant wallpaper and vindictive receptionists, the rutted streets, the stunted Dacia cars, and the queues outside the shuttered alimentară.
On the face of it, Otilia runs a series of errands, but they are variously awful, from her tours through the ill-lit suburbs and residential blocks to an uncomfortable attendance at her boyfriend's mother's birthday party. She displays a resilience pushed close to breaking point, giving a great deal for her friend without any pantomime of saintliness. Bebe, who may or may not be a trained doctor, is shown to have some depth as he shepherds his mother indoors from outside her flat, but is nevertheless a credibly repulsive character, a very ordinary nightmare of a man. It's Gabita who is least prominent, for the most part turned in on herself, a hapless passenger to her own plight, yet for all that this impacts on others it doesn't feel like culpability. There are moments, when she is trying to decide whether to bring her revision notes to the hotel, or her hair dryer, and forgetting the plastic table cloth to be spread on the bed, that are absolutely heartbreaking, and you just want to look away.
This isn't an angry film, nor is it didactic, but in showing the sordid danger of informal terminations it tackles the issue explicitly. The director, Christian Mungiu, is of the 'Little Decree' generation, the Romanian equivalent of the baby boom, following Ceausescu's late sixties ban on contraception and abortion. In interview he has said:
"4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days is essentially a story of personal choices. It is also about the subtle and often invisible consequences of indoctrination. It is about friendship, responsibility and love. But it is mainly about abortion, at that time regarded as an act of freedom and protest against the communist mode which prohibited it in order to increase the disciplined labour. I remember it very clearly, I was twenty years old: the abortion was not a moral problem - the main concern was being able to arrange one. Though women often died during the operation we thought of this as unlikely. We were so young."
[translation from French via the internet and my cleaning up, so may not be all that)
Personal responsibility also features: In a scene late in the film Otilia's careless boyfriend, though entirely unconnected with Gabita's plight, is clearly as much part of the problem as Romania's statist-mediaeval abortion laws. It's odd that there has been so little coverage in the English-speaking media of this film - such rights under legislation as have been secured in the West are hardly invulnerable. Since the movie won the 2007 Palme d'Or, therefore hardly an underground flick, this almost equates to silence.
Released here on 11 January, though no-one told the Curzon group, as they've had it from yesterday. 25 January in the US.
'Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days' (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile) Dir: Christian Mungiu (2007). http://www.432-lefilm.com/( - more images from the film - )