*** ½ out of ****
“4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” is a powerful, evocative film that dares to challenge conventional morals and filmmaking, ultimately crafting a moody, suspenseful, real, and sometimes gruesome picture. The color of each scene is remarkably bleak, with good reason; an abortion is no happy matter.
In the film, two young women, college roommates named Otilia and Gabita, try to arrange an illegal abortion for Gabita. After Otilia arranges the entire event at a nearby hotel, the pair meets shady Mr. Bebe for the life-changing procedure. What happens afterward will arrest the attention of audiences until the surprising end.
The film features stunning performances from its actors, but Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in particular, whose role is raw and inspired. This hardly neglects Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), though, who played her foolish character to perfection. “4 Months” relies intensively on its script for action, with heavy dialogue carrying the plot. Though few films can be carried for two hours on words alone, this one grasps the attention of viewers and never lets go. Being so completely dialogue-driven, musical sound has hardly a place in this film, and it is noticeably absent. All that happens in this film must be accomplished by what is spoken or what is not spoken in the silence.
The film’s greatest achievement besides script and direction is in a partnership of cinematography and editing, where the takes are incredibly long and the framing depends on utilizing shots that involve characters applying offscreen space. This film is all about hiding and maintaining secrets, and with a dialogue-driven story, conversations that take place with characters outside the shot enhance the sense of secrets. Again, though lengthy, deliberate shots can become quite boring after some time, this film ceaselessly maximizes its capacity for captivation with each shot. Going back to dialogue, it is also particularly useful for maintaining the interest level of these shots, and it is also important to note again that both what is seen and what is spoken incorporate something to hide by enhancing silence and offscreen space.
Cristian Mungiu makes a fantastic film, but with its laudable filmmaking, there are a few less-than-praiseworthy things worth mentioning. Though almost completely dead-on with its dialogue, the narrative leaves some important questions unanswered. If a viewer is like me, I am certain he or she is also wondering who Gabita’s baby’s father is, though some viewers may not. Though it is clear that the film’s focus is in the now and not on what happened or what will happen, such details being removed makes me recall the 1993 film, “Philadelphia,” which raised many of the same questions, removing much of the main character’s past in favor of the issue at hand. Although this does work for “4 Months,” it is not entirely satisfying for viewers to leave the theater questioning such details. Despite the uncertain past, at least the film incorporates a similarly uncertain future for the characters at the film’s end. This complete uncertainty, though, can be rewarding as far as the film is concerned, but it is hardly as rewarding to viewers.
Overall, viewers will be on the edge of their seats for most sequences. I should also mention that this film is not for viewers who become easily queasy—some sequences hold nothing back.
“4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” is now showing at the Belcourt Theater.
Originally published in the March 27 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture
March 27, 2008
*** ½ out of ****