The only two Romanian films I’ve seen are both long and slow, drably shot in documentary style. In “The Death of Mister Lazarescu” (2005) a dying man is getting quite a lot of medical establishment attention, though not any help. In “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2008) young woman takes it upon herself to get her friend out of” trouble” of the unwanted pregnancy kind. In neither movie is he Romanians seeking medical help very sympathetic.
Both movies, especially the second one, were highly praised by critics, despite it being a very long, very drab movie without charismatic stars and with mostly unpleasant characters. I will grant — and get back to — the redeeming social value of the movie, but I thought that the movie did not just drag but ground to a standstill at a birthday dinner for the boyfriend of the most sympathetic character in the movie, its pragmatic protagonist Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca).
How Otilia manages a bad situation is the primary interest of the movie, and I have nothing but praise for Anamaria Marinca’s performance, even though I think the scenes including her at the start in a student dorm and the long sequence of her potentially future mother-in-law go on far too long. (Marinca did not edit the movie!)
The movie is about the difficulties of getting an abortion in a time and place (1987 Romania) were performing or having an abortion are crimes. The movie’s title already communicates that the pregnant woman is midway through the second trimester of pregnancy. I find it hard to take plot-spoiling seriously, but issue a pro forma
Plot spoiler alert
Otila’s roommate Gabriela “Gabita” Dragut (Laura Vasiliu) is the pregnant one, who does not have enough money to pay for an illegal abortion. Otilia takes charge, borrowing money from her boyfriend (the son of a physician) Adi (Alexandru Protocean). Adi’s mother is expecting Otilia at her birthday party and making a meringue especially for Otilia.
Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the abortionist whom Gabita contacted laid down two preconditions: that she rent a room in one of two hotels and that she meet him so that he can decide whether he trusts her. She violates both preconditions, not making a reservation at a designated hotel and sending Gabita to the rendez-vous. Plus not having enough money. Plus not telling Otilia how far advanced her pregnancy was…
Let’s say that Otilia makes multiple sacrifices to get the procedure done, and that Gabita evidences no gratitude. And it appears that it was not that she was thinking about what to do about her pregnancy for four months and three weeks, but was still in denial
Wandering off into some personalfeelings…
Do I sound unsympathetic to Gabita? I am (yes, I realize she is a fictional character and I do not think I have to like her or her decision-making process). I feel that Otilia goes far beyond what the best of friends might be called upon to do, and though I think she is a bit hard on her boyfriend, think he could write it off to the stress her taking responsibility for Gabita’s follies (by which I don’t mean getting pregnant, knowing nothing about how that came about; I mean the danger to self and others her belated abortion constitutes).
I am well aware that others would condemn Gabita and the “plumber” who induces the miscarriage and Otilia as an accomplice. The movie is totally not about Gabita’s decision not to carry the baby to term, and I am sure that this is reason enough for many to condemn the movie.
My mother considered it the most cardinal of sins to bring an unwanted baby into the world. She might be called “pro-abortion,” though certainly considered abortion a serious matter and not something to use as birth control (as it was in the USSR and the DDR). I am pro-choice, albeit a bit less “pro-abortion.” I certainly do not think that Gabita would be a fit mother and also know something about the horrors of orphanages in Ceausescu’s Romania. So I approve to Otilia getting things done.
End plot-spoiler alert
Not that my views on what the characters in the movie should do matter. Whatever one’s views on that and on abortion in general, the movie provides a reminder that women (sometimes aided by their inseminators) will find ways to terminate unwanted pregnancies, legal or not. This is also a fact made clear in such other non- (un-?) American films as “Vera Drake” and “Story of Women.” Criminalization does not work, though I am only too well aware that reality is anathema to faith-based law-making.
As a reminder of the realities of the provision of pregnancy terminations that considerably increase the rate of fatalities where and when abortion is illegal, I think these films are valuable. The entrepreneurs in these three films are not nearly as crass and unfeeling as they could be.
But as a film, I find “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” 20-40 minutes too long: not just too slow, but drained of momentum as of color. I realize that the birthday dinner is torture to Otilia, who is concerned about what might be happening back at the hotel, but don’t think the audience needs all the table talk of the condescending professionals.
I recognize the desire to praise making something of value with very little money, but question this movie winning the Palme d’or at Cannes and the European Film Awards for both best film and best director (Cristian Mungiu, whose screenplay was also nominated, but lost to Fatih Akin’s for “The Edge of Heaven,” as at Cannes). I think the movie has merits (especially Anamaria Marinca’s performance), but that the low budget and/or subject matter led to their being exaggerated by European and North American critics.
©210, 2017, Stephen O. Murray