Cinema is meant to tell stories, and very often those stories are rather far-fetched or fantastical, and are not rooted in reality. It is thus the responsibility of independent cinema to tell the stories that mainstream cinema refuses to. Independent films show a different side to society very often, and often venture into taboo territories. One such film is the Romanian art film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile), which explores a subject that still divides people to this very day – the issue of abortion. However, rather than showing the issue as a whole, it concentrates on one specific fictional case, and shows the issue of abortion in a way that isn’t persuading to either side, but rather very matter-of-fact and direct, and utterly heartbreaking.
Two university students and friends are making plans to visit a hospital. However, it isn’t for pleasure, but for a very controversial and bleak reason – Gabriela Dragut (Laura Vasiliu), who goes by the name of Găbița, is pregnant, and because this film is set in 1987 in Romania, the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, abortion is illegal. Clearly not intending on going forward with the pregnancy, Găbița asks her friend, Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca), to help her in finding a suitable individual on the black market who will perform the abortion procedure. That person is the mysterious Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), a black-market doctor and apparent pervert that seems to be far too knowledgeable on how to perform an abortion. Over the few hours that this film takes place, Găbița and Otilia go through some intense emotional crises, questioning themselves and society as a whole, and how a simple procedure can cause so much pain, both physical and emotional. The worst part is the fact that if they are caught, they face time in prison.
The topic of abortion is one that is highly controversial, and has always been a tricky subject. This is mainly because unlike other subjects of social importance explored in cinema, such as civil rights and the LGBT movement, the topic of abortion is more about what someone believes to be right or wrong, and has arguments on both sides that constantly prevent one from becoming more accepted than the other. Abortion is a subject not many films choose to focus on – probably because it is difficult to portray it without being biased. This brings up an interesting topic – film is a form of art, and like any form of art, it is a reflection of what the creator believes to be true. However, it has been shown that a film that is completely biased and tries to convince others about a particular political, social or economic point will inevitably become a form of propaganda. The director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, circumvents this problem by portraying 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days not as his statement on a particular social issue as it stands today, but his portrayal of the society that he was born into, and what his native Romania went through for many years, but unlike many films about oppressive regimes, it doesn’t show the larger picture very clearly, but rather implies the gravity of the situation. This is part of what makes 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days such a masterpiece.
The performances in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days are absolutely spell-binding. Anamaria Marinca gives a masterclass in a restrained but wildly emotional performance – her subtle control of the intense progression of Otilia’s experience with helping her friend with this procedure. It is bizarre that this film concentrates on Otilia, who is only a third party to the central story. Her performance is heartbreaking and absolutely real, and she gives a powerhouse performance, and only through a look or a glance, she conveys so much emotion. Laura Vasiliu is the character at the centre of the story, but she is a secondary character. However, that doesn’t mean that her performance is as powerful and emotionally devastating as that of Marinca. Her fearful and terrified performance is something truly heartbreaking to watch. Vlad Ivanov is incredibly effective as the creepy and deranged doctor who performs the procedure.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film that will leave you cold and disturbed. Mungiu holds absolutely nothing back – he creates a tale of a very real situation, and does not restrain with the disturbing imagery. He makes spectacular use of the long-shot, which is initially beautiful and interesting, with particular highlights including the scene at the beginning with the two girls preparing, and with Otilia sitting at the table at her boyfriend’s house, surrounded by noisy but jovial older people. However, the long-shot is used in a very disturbing way with the reveal of the aborted fetus, which shows Mungiu’s warped inspiration by the films of David Lynch, particularly Eraserhead and The Elephant Man, where grand and grotesque reveals leave the viewer shocked.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a shocking film, but I adored it. It is exactly why I love European cinema – it is dark, disturbing and not afraid to go to any extent to tell their stories, even if it means dipping into the world of taboo subjects. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days left me very upset, but in a good way – I enjoy being shocked occasionally, and this definitely provided that for me. I thought 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was a fantastic and very important film, and I hope more and more people see it, because this is what cinema needs to strive to be – this kind of shocking but informative cautionary tale. Such a wonderful and unique film.