By Rene Rodriguez
In one of those baffling, boneheaded decisions that makes you wonder if Academy members even watch the movies they are voting on, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days did not make the list of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees. The only conceivable explanation for the snub is that writer-director Cristian Mungiu’s brilliant, suspenseful, absolutely riveting film, which won the Palme D’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and deserved to have earned nominations in several other categories, is that its treatment of illegal abortion freaked out Oscar voters too much for them to finish watching their screeners.
The Academy had no problem, of course, bestowing several nominations and one Oscar to the crowd-pleasing (if overrated) Juno, which touched on abortion in a much lighter, funnier manner. ”I’d like to schedule a hasty abortion,” snapped that film’s teenaged heroine when calling a clinic, before changing her mind and deciding to have her baby.
Neither of those options is available to Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), a college student in 1987 Romania, still in the grips of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship, which has deemed abortion illegal (and, after five months, is treated as murder). The flighty Gabita, who seems to have been in denial about her condition until she reached the stage of the film’s title, has enlisted the help of her roommate Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) to help her secure a hotel room and tend to her during her recovery from a planned black-market abortion.
The bulk of the movie, which takes place over 24 hours, details what happens the day of the abortion, opening with the girls in their dorm room packing for their trip, leading to Otilia’s discovery that their hotel reservation has been canceled and that the price set by the abortionist (a chilling Vlad Ivanov) turns out to be far costlier than mere money.
Although Gabita is the one who is pregnant, it is the resourceful Otilia who is in every scene of 4 Months. Shot in long, occasionally harrowing takes, the story unfolds through her eyes, and through Marinca’s remarkable performance, we feel everything her character does: Her silent exasperation with officious hotel clerks, her unspoken horror at the extremes she goes to for the sake of her friend, her profound alienation during a birthday party at the home of her boyfriend (Alex Potocean), her desperate panic when a critical phone call goes unanswered.
Through Otilia’s ordeal, which director Mungiu shapes into a quasi-thriller, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days transcends its hot-button subject and becomes something broader and much deeper: A portrait of the damage wreaked upon a society under totalitarian rule, and how its denizens, as a result of having to fend for themselves, unconsciously forgo some of the most basic qualities — compassion, kindness, sensitivity — that bind us together as human beings.
Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov, Alex Potocean
Writer-director: Cristian Mungiu
Producers: Oleg Mutu, Cristian Mungiu
An IFC Films release. Running time: 113 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In Romanian with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade: Intracoastal; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Mizner Park, PGA Theater.