After winning the Cannes’ Film Festival’s Palme D’Or in 2007, 4 Months has spent the past two years on the festival circuit and is finally receiving its (admittedly limited) release at Ster Kinekor’s Cinema Nouveau.
Most likely due to its controversial subject matter, the film was overlooked at the 2007 Oscars despite receiving several ‘Best Film’ awards including the Golden Globes’ ‘Best Foreign Film’ accolade. The film is set in Communist Romania, just two years prior to the 1989 revolution, and follows a young woman, Otilia, as she helps organise an illegal abortion for her friend and classmate, Gabita.
As she attempts to find a hotel room and a ‘black market’ doctor to perform the difficult and lengthy procedure, Otilia finds her personal life under strain as well. Her long-term boyfriend’s interest seems to be waning, and out of guilt, she finds herself having to meet his parents at their home during the final hours of Gabita’s procedure.
Watching Otilia is a fascinating experience, and seeing her navigate the obstacles constantly thrown in her path gives great insight into how people had to learn to survive under the communist regime. From buying cigarettes and renting hotel rooms to gaining the trust of a manipulative doctor and making a good impression on the parents of her lover, nothing goes smoothly for Otilia. It’s both frustrating and gripping, and director Cristian Mungiu plays on this conflict in the audience’s mind throughout the film.
Anamaria Marinca, as Otilia, offers a nuanced performance that would put Kate Winslet’s supposedly perfect work in The Reader to shame. The film is basically a one-woman show, as she appears in almost every scene, and never do we see a crack in her performance. Few actors could make a scene of sitting and waiting in a car for five minutes an interesting experience, but thanks to some very subtle acting (something we rarely see in Hollywood) and some cleverly aimed camera angles, several of the drawn out scenes are not only watchable, but actually difficult to look away from.
The film itself impressively manages to avoid being placed into any specific genre. Of course, it’s a drama at its core, but a five minute ‘chase’ sequence towards the end of the film is thrilling and also emotionally draining. The dinner party at Otilia’s lover’s home also has moments of black comedy that somehow feel perfectly natural despite the fact that we’ve just been subjected to the beginnings of a rather horrible illegal operation.
The abortion itself mostly takes place off camera, with nothing too gratuitous except for one incredibly graphic, but entirely necessary scene. However, even without graphic material, the impact that the event has on both of the girls is clear throughout. The movie remains thankfully quite grey on pro-life, pro-choice issues. The horrors of abortion are clear, but it’s difficult not to empathise with these two women thrown into an awful situation with potentially even worse consequences.
It’s a shame that 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days won’t see much publicity, but this raw, harrowing character study will not be forgotten by those who can get through it. The squeamish among us need not apply.
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