Tuesday, January 01, 2008

4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days): Movie Review

Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Country: Romania
Runtime: 113 min.
Rating: *****
Genre: Drama

4 Luni, 3 Saptamani si 2 Zile is not merely an effectively made film; it is so good I might never make myself go through the pain of watching it again. I might not be making much sense here; you would know though what I’m talking when you watch this heart-wrenching minimalist drama from top Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (Occident, 2002). That it wouldn’t leave you for a good couple of days should be taken for granted. In that time though, it leaves you wondering about that unique bond between two students, something I believe that is deeper than friendship. Something that resonates the feeling when one looks deep into the mirror and finds a true reflection. A different form of one’s self, I believe.
It is 1980s Romania, the final years of Nicolae Ceauşescu, who in 1966 reversed a 1957 decree that permitted abortion. It is Romania where black-outs are the norm, and the daily life is a struggle for the average citizen. In that world, and in that time, something is bothering Gabi (Laura Vasiliu) no end, and her roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) knows about it. She understands it. Gabi shoots random demands, as she’s packing for someplace, and Otilia responds with a calming yes. She’s obviously the street-smart kind, and she knows her roommate isn’t well versed in the ways of the world. And she doesn’t have even the slightest trace of resentment, for her friend overloading her already busy schedule for the day. She goes to meet her boyfriend, who reminds her of the birthday party at his home. She, instinctively, tells him that it wouldn’t be possible for her to make it. What’s could possibly be more important than the party, he wonders. We wonder too, for isn’t it just a room partner. No, it is a bond that is as deep as any floating around in that world. There are uncles and aunts down at the party, having a merry time around the cozy confines of the dinner table. There’s a boyfriend who seemingly offers endless love, and whose parents are looking forward to the nuptial. Yet, there’s only one thing on Otilia’s mind, and that is eating her from within. Her friend is 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days pregnant and needs an abortion. And that, if I am not mistaken, was homicide in the Ceauşescu era.
There’s a certain nonchalance that the film assumes, and it pretends that it is unaffected by the fate of the two girls. There is no background score whatsoever, and the camera craves for the least disturbed area of the room. Never does it pry into their lives; it merely is an extended part of them with a disturbing degree of aloofness. It sits, real close and stares as things unfold in real-time. The takes are long and we’re made to feel and endure every moment of it. There’s a long, drawn sequence towards the end, which I believe was intended to be just that. There’s another sequence in the middle (you would know when you watch the film) which is horrific precisely due to the extended duration of the sequence. And there, in that moment, even the film sheds its mask of aloofness exposing its shock. It shares, and we too, the dread of the two girls. And here, I greatly appreciate the filmmaker’s sensibilities. He doesn’t take the obvious route; what he rather chooses to do is to follow the horror Gabi, who is pregnant, is experiencing as her friend who has absolutely no obligation is enduring for her. We share the fear every step of the way, and even the slightest noise startles us. How many times haven’t we walked in the middle of the night, to escape from a wrong, and everything around feels hazy. We walk around in circles with no comprehension as to where the circle leads. This world – its rooms, it corridors, its buses, its streets, its staircases – is compact. We might find ourselves claustrophobic, I especially did, and there isn’t respite for us until the last frame. These people operate their lives there, in that seemingly jam-packed world, and don’t as much as sigh. I can’t seem to recollect a single wide shot, most of it is within feet of the drama. The film has been made at a shoestring budget of € 600,000, but that isn’t the reason for the bleakness of the film. There’s snow all around, and for one we feel the cold. Anamaria Marinca is agonizing, and if ever that could be a compliment this is it. She walks silently not in the least out of compulsion, not letting even a trace of her inner turmoil appear. She stands, as the abortionist places the probe, and we are amazed at the strength of this person. Her Otilia looks at Gabi and her vulnerability (brought forth quite ably by Vasiliu), and for her sake buries her own insecurities, and assumes the position of the strong one. But when everything is done, and she is alone standing in front of the building dumpster, she breaks down into inconsolable sobs. This is a great performance. I see many people finding the abortionist Bebe, played by Vlad Ivanov, as chilling evil. I don’t think so, and I don’t think the film looks at him with any degree of contempt either. Bebe is a product of the system, and all he asks for is a little ‘payment’ for putting his neck on the line. For if caught, he would be the first in line. The degree of nonchalance with which the film associates him is more disconcerting to me. It reminded me of Andy the gun-salesman from Taxi Driver, a character who is disturbingly gentle.
On a casual glance it might seem that this film is a tragedy, and most seem to view it as one. I don’t think so. Tragedy would have been Otilia enjoying the warmth of the birthday party leaving her friend to rot for herself out in the cold. Tragedy would have been Otilia squashing her dreams to marry Adi and cook mashed potatoes for him. Though it is grim and sad, I believe, it isn’t a tragedy. Otilia experiences and endures everything – from hostile receptionists to the lurking legal danger to the exploitation from the abortionist to an argument with her boyfriend – for her friend. And she knows, when it is her turn, Gabi would leave no stone unturned. They sit, at the end, with Gabi scanning the menu and Otilia fixated on her. I guess both of them know exactly what the other is thinking, and that is much more than reassuring.

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