4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (IFC Films, NR)

film_3-months.jpgWhat may surprise you about the film isn’t so much its content as how it’s executed.




If you haven’t been following the goings-on of contemporary international cinema, here’s the scoop on 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Last May, the film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes, beating out such films as No Country for Old Men, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Zodiac and Persepolis for top honors. With the Palme d’Or, a first for the country of Romania, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days became the crowning jewel of its nation’s cinema, causing A.O. Scott of The New York Times to declare Romanian cinema as the most exciting thing that side of the ocean. Since its win at Cannes, the film has been riddled with controversy, not simply from being denounced by the Vatican (how cool would it be to have the pope himself put a scarlet letter on your film?). Then came the snubbing of the film for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, and thus began the outcry for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. As is par for the course, there’s at least one big controversy per year in this controversial category, but more so than Volver, Black Book, City of God or Y tu Mamá También being ignored in years past, this proved to be the ultimate offense of the Academy. How could arguably the best-reviewed film of the past year (it currently holds an unheard-of 99 out of 100 on Metacritic.com, seven points higher than the closest Best Picture nominee, There Will Be Blood) get unrecognized in every single category after having just about every other critics prize under its belt?

It’s probably safe to say that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days‘ controversy stems from its subject matter. Abortion, as I’m sure you know, isn’t a subject taken lightly, particularly in America; in fact, as a challenge, rack your brain to remember the last time you saw a woman in an American film actually have one. In two of the most successful films of last year, the subject of abortion is nearly glossed over. The option barely occurred to Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, and Ellen Page’s decision to carry the child was easily chalked up to her quirkiness in Juno. (As a side note, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days wasn’t the only film dealing with abortion to get overlooked by the Academy; Tony Kaye’s critically acclaimed, unbiased documentary Lake of Fire was another film missing when the nominees were announced a few weeks ago.) In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, abortion doesn’t even appear to be an option as much as it does the only way out for these young women’s life ambitions. Unfortunately, we’re in the final years of communist rule in Romania, where abortion is illegal. This drives the pregnant Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) with the help of her roommate Otilia (the radiant Anamaria Marinca) to use underground means from an ethically questionable doctor (Vlad Ivanov).

In allowing the argument that 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days shows the potential horrors of a reversal on Roe v. Wade to other folk, I will simply stick with the case of the film being one of the most astounding works from one of the strongest years cinema has seen in a long time. For those unfamiliar with this so-called New Wave of Romanian cinema, its appeal comes from the almost entire abandon of the familiar notions of American film. It’s radical in its deceptive simplicity, in ways not far from neo-realism but certainly in a category all its own. Though most of the films heralded as part of this movement have touched upon subject matter that would otherwise sound unappetizing to most viewers, there’s a stark urgency and breathtaking intensity to each of these films, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a three-hour long "comedy" about the constant refusal of a dying man into the hospitals of Bucharest, in particular. As many have made the comparison, director Cristian Mungiu’s style is more akin to the films of the Dardenne brothers (L’Enfant, Rosetta) or Paul Greengrass (United 93, Bloody Sunday) in his stripped-down, nail-biting intensity. For those like me, who find the Dardennes’ or Greengrass’ breed of suspense far more shattering than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller, Mungiu’s vision is utterly riveting.

What may surprise you about the film isn’t so much its content as how it’s executed. Mungiu directs the film like a slow-boil thriller. As Otilia goes about the leg work for her roommate’s operation, Mungiu places an effective cloud of dread over the film, a method even more affecting than last year’s The Lives of Others in its dealings with the underground of communist society. What drives the film forward could also be attributed to Marcina in an astounding, unglamorous and wholly captivating performance. The lack of inclusion of her among the shortlist of the year’s best lead performances by an actress also ranks with the most shocking of slights on the Academy’s part. Equally affecting is Ivanov as the mysterious Mr. Bebe, a man of dubious motives in carrying out the abortion.

In summation, it would be in the best interest of the Oscar hater and the world cinema lover to rush and see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It’s a rare occasion in finding a film that’s as good as they say, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is certainly one of those instances, a film that manages to astonish beneath the clutter of controversy. | Joe Bowman

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