Welcome to the perfect movie. Cristian Mungiu's
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the accomplished melding of both an aesthetic and a moral sensibility, of politics and art, of love and disillusionment, of acting and being.
The winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes and showcased at the recent New York Film Festival, this faultlessly shot and edited offering has already won over the world's critics. Yet will audiences string along? The main obstacle for some is that this coruscating Romanian entry, at its most minimalist, is a film about an abortion near the end of the Ceausescu regime, in 1987.
(Eleven years earlier, abortion had been banned in Romania, causing a substantial jump in the population and warehouse orphanages. Additionally, according to some sources, more that half a million Romanian women died from botched abortions between 1966 and 1989, when the option was once again legalized.)
4 Months follows, over a 24-hour period, two Bucharest-based university roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who are about to arrange an abortion.
Gabita, the one with child, is a flighty brunette who has a tendency to mangle everything she touches with systematic lying, an unrelenting thick-wittedness, plus an irresponsible forgetfulness.
The brunt of Gabita's missteps falls upon the blonde, pragmatic Otilia, who is trying to make her best friend's upcoming ordeal as safe as possible. She has to reserve the hotel room where the operation will occur, she has to raise some of the costs, and she has to meet up with the chary, callous abortionist, Dr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov).
The pivotal, outstanding sequence here is when the two young women and the doctor sit together in a small hotel room to iron out the consistently multiplying intricacies of their dealings medically, financially, and sexually.
The abortion finally occurs, but don't expect you can guess the ending. You can't possibly.
With unfaltering tension, Mungiu unrelentingly dissects Otilia, who is the main character here. This stoic heroine has to reexamine her own reunion with her boyfriend, with whom she has had unprotected sex; her relationship to Gabita; her country roots; and her own upcoming life choices.
4 Months is clearly the next-to-last-word about the effects a virulent dictatorship can have on its populace, on the devastating outcome the rescinding of the legal right to have an abortion will occasion, and the plight of being young and sexual without easy access to birth control.
This film's serious purpose almost makes one reluctant to hawk its award-worthy performances, helming, and technical credits. But what the hell: 4 Months is unmistakably great filmmaking, plain and simple. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Jewish Humor in Film" and "Queer Theater" at City College, has written about cinema for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.