PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

The clock is ticking in the very first moment of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It's Romania, 1987, and time is running down.


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Cast: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu, Alex Potocean
Distributor: IFC
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: IFC First Take
First date: 2007
UK Release Date: 2008-01-11 (Limited release)
US Release Date: 2008-01-25 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

The clock is ticking in the very first moment of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. It's Romania, 1987, and time is running down.

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is restless. Introduced in mid-conversation ("Okay, thanks..."), she smokes a cigarette, idly clears off a table. She's on her way to an abortion, arranged through an acquaintance and illegal. Her roommate Otilia (the astounding Anamaria Marinca) tries to smooth over tensions, purchasing cigarettes and Tic-Tacs from the dorm's rudimentary store, passing up the chance to take a kitten back to their room, because Gabita's allergic. While Gabi waits inside, Otilia heads out into the grey city streets, hoping to secure a hotel room, according to the abortionist's instructions.

As Cristian Mungiu's camera follows Otilia during her brief, initial ventures, the context is not quite clear. At the first hotel, no one has a record of her reservation. Why, the second hotel clerk asks, does she need a room if she's a student living in the dorms? Her identification card is out of date, the clerk notes, seeming to recede into the space behind her desk; Otilia faces trouble, "if the police get you." Otilia makes her way through these serial snags with a certain resignation, tinged with frustration. The systems -- all of them -- are broken here, during Ceausescu's last days.

At last Otilia finds a room, but soon learns it's not at one of the hotels okayed ahead of time by the abortionist, Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). He looks at her from inside his small red car, his face obscured by shadows and his irritation manifest even from a distance: "Young lady, here's the deal: I have nothing to hide," he tells her, though it's clear he does. "I came in my own car... but I will say this: trust is vital. I always meet the person first, to see if we trust each other."

If the set-up to this point weren't so bleak, Bebe's earnest-seeming assertion would be laughable. "Trust" has nothing to do with his business. The routine he sketches is designed to his benefit, as he manipulates the girls' fears and inexperience. And yet the film doesn't so much judge as observe him. He's petty and mean, but also scraping by in a political and financial economy that leaves him feeling bitter. At one point, the camera watches Bebe in long shot, remaining his car with Otilia; he stops off at his apartment to deal with his mother, locked out ("The wind blew the door shut," she frets, while he shifts his weight, edgy and impatient). When the old woman adds, "Someone called," Bebe barks, "Don't answer when I'm out!", a reaction that only hints at the pressures he's feeling, whether looking out for her or covering up his own wrongdoings. In the car, Otilia's own mounting tension is visible in the slight hunch in her shoulders, her taut face. The arrangement she's made with Bebe cannot go well.

Brilliant and excruciating, the film (winner of last year's Palme d’Or) builds gradually to a devastating sequence of events, as Otilia and Gabi soon find themselves inside the hotel room with Bebe. As he explains the procedure -- as well as their payment options -- they confront one bad option after another. Preparing Gabi, Bebe describes each step, along with her body's likely responses: "I will insert a probe and it will cause an abortion; yes, it will hurt, there will be bleeding, but it will not require an anesthetic. The pain won't be that serious." Gabi listens, wan and withdrawn, but as the camera keeps all three figures in frame for long minutes, Otilia's reaction becomes more compelling, as she's increasingly, silently appalled by Bebe's "conditions."

Questions arise concerning the actual length of Gabi's pregnancy and Bebe frames her deception as a betrayal of his "trust": "You're playing games with the months," Bebe snarls, "It's a new offense for the fourth month... They get you for murder, five to 10 years." Pale and slender and desperate, Gabi can hardly handle the "deal," unable to figure the cost or the changes Bebe makes, fast-talking and shady. As he comes to embody the regime's wide-reaching, pitiless oppressions, Otilia is forced to make impossible choices. And yet she is not reduced to victim, but appears more a survivor, determined, angry, damaged.

Changes in her aspirations and self-understanding are both agonizing and sudden (the film takes place over a day, more or less). Leaving Gabi alone in order to keep a promise to her own boyfriend, Adi (Alex Potocean) that she visit with his family, Otilia is visibly distraught. Again contending with no good options, her face now more drawn and pale than at the start of the day, Otilia promises she'll be back soon. Making her way across town by bus, through a cheerless night and menacingly empty streets, she arrives at the family home, where the mood is both utterly different and more of the same. Otilia looks trapped at the dinner table, barely hearing the conversation as the camera keeps her centered, surrounded by chirpy relatives. During a subsequent discussion with Adi -- they've retreated to his bedroom, drab and no doubt the site of previous lusty embraces -- Otilia comes to see herself differently. Now she sees her own risky sex with Adi as yet another form of oppression, born of his ignorance and unthinking self-interest, as well as her compliance. As the day finally ends for Otilia, so too does any illusion of security or trust.

10

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.