4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Fear, despair, determination
As a clock ticks off the seconds, the camera stares as a pair of college roommates, Gabita and Otilia, engage in an apparently ordinary conversation. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal a narrow, cramped dorm room at the opening of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, and follows Otilia down a dismal hallway to a communal washroom, then to the dorm room of a student running a thriving black market in cigarettes and into another room where she buys hand cream from girls operating a cosmetics bazaar.
There are few clues of what’s going on during the first half-hour. Otilia is noncommittal about dinner with her boyfriend’s parents that night because she’s keeping a secret. She is not off to buy illicit cigarettes, but to find an abortionist for her frightened roommate. Gabita is carrying an unwanted child in a country where abortion is neither safe nor legal. Many thousands of women are said to have died from botched abortions in Communist Romania, where condoms were apparently scarcer than American tobacco. Mother and abortionist could spend years in prison if caught.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a grim, unflinching examination of the ends to which desperation can lead. Laura Vasiliu as the downcast, trembling Gabita and Anamaria Marinca as the resilient, determined Otilia endow their characters with humanity unadulterated by the false notes and rank emotionalism of Hollywood. Gabita and Otilia appear as full-fledged people, not stick figures from a screenwriter’s drawing board. The panic and determination in their eyes, the unrelenting sadness and regret, show more than any ream of dialogue could ever say.
Even the supporting characters, including the abortionist, reverberate with reality. He is alternately professional and crass, a careful practitioner and a jerk driving a hard bargain over the price. On the way to the hotel room where the abortion will take place, he stops at his mother’s, chiding her to go inside before she catches a chill.Mungiu’s film is also a painstaking recreation of its time and place in the paint-peeled, rusted hulk of failed Communist programs. The lobby of the hotel resembles an Edward Hopper interior, the flickering light bulbs adding a hint of David Lynch.