tongue-tied lightning

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)
January 5, 2009, 5:20 PM
Filed under: film


There’s not much I can say about 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days that hasn’t already been said, but it had such an impact on me I can’t not write about it.  Going into the film, I only knew it was about a woman getting an illegal abortion in Communist Romania.  And to be honest, Comparisons to Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazerescu, a film I was not a fan of, made me put off watching it.  The comparisons are warranted, however I feel Cristian Mungiu’s film is much more affecting.

I was surprised to find out that the woman having the abortion was not the protagonist.  She has a friend help her through the process, and it is through this friend’s eyes (played by Anamaria Marinca) we see the film.  We follow her as she gets the things they need for a couple days, books a hotel room, and picks up the abortionist.  At times she is clearly annoyed with her friend, but she goes to ends most wouldn’t to help her through the process.

Mungiu drops us into this environment, there is no exposition, as things are happening in the first half hour we may not know what their significance is, but it becomes clear as we keep watching.  It’s a very effective device, perhaps taking us into the characters minds, having us experience the bewilderment they must certainly be experiencing. Marinca is a very able actress.  She uses her face to lend what seem at first like banal exchanges weight.  The worry in her brow causes tension that keeps us involved until we figure out what’s going on.

The camerawork is minimalistic but well thought out.  It is mostly filmed in long takes with very little lighting.  The camera at times seems to have a mind of its own.  Not always following the action, but sometimes hanging back on something for a few seconds before moving forward, sometimes moving ahead anticipating the action.  The film has no soundtrack.  I didn’t notice this until I read a review mentioning it after I had seen the film.  I found this a bit shocking, because I am very musically minded.  It’s a sign of how effective the film is that I never noted the lack of music.  The film’s realism is devastating.  The characters are never mouthpieces for the director.  They go about their business and the director follows Marinca with his sentient gaze.

It is impossible to discuss this film and not discuss abortion.  However, I’m not sure abortion is the films subject, at least not that directly, it is more a film about the devastating effects of totalitarianism on the human spirit.  And the film wouldn’t work if the two main characters weren’t viewed with such humanism.  The film is more about them than it is about any hot button issue, but let’s discuss it nonetheless.

It is refreshing to see abortion treated with the weight it deserves and not cast aside as a quirky plot point as it so often is in American films like Juno.  As far as I can tell, Mungiu takes no stance on the issue.  This is a very smart choice, it allows the film to maintain it’s humanism, keeping it from being propaganda.  The film shows us what a terrifying and grotesque procedure it is, but also shows us the anguish that is caused by making such a procedure illegal.  It will inevitably continue, in much more dehumanizing ways.  Again, I think Mungiu’s target here isn’t abortion, but the lack of human freedom in general.   But he chose it for a reason, and it certainly deserves consideration.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days is a great film, it had an enormous impact on me, it will stay with me for a long time, and it’s an experience I think everyone should have.


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