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Friday, January 25, 2008

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 Days


Since I’m still very upset with the Oscar non-nomination of this movie and because I do agree that this is a movie that HAS to be seen by many people I’m reproducing today’s movie review from the New York Times.

Friend Indeed Who Doesn’t Judge or Flinch

By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: January 25, 2008

In “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a ferocious, unsentimental, often brilliantly directed film about a young woman who helps a friend secure an abortion, the camera doesn’t follow the action, it expresses consciousness itself. This consciousness — alert to the world and insistently alive — is embodied by a young university student who, one wintry day in the late 1980s, helps her roommate with an abortion in Ceausescu’s Romania when such procedures were illegal, not uncommon and too often fatal. It’s a pitiless, violent story that in its telling becomes a haunting and haunted intellectual and aesthetic achievement.

You may already have heard something about “4 Months,” which was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, only to be shut out from Academy Award consideration a few weeks ago by the philistines who select the foreign-language nominees. The Oscars are absurd, yet they can help a microscopically budgeted foreign-language film find a supportive audience. And “4 Months” deserves to be seen by the largest audience possible, partly because it offers a welcome alternative to the coy, trivializing attitude toward abortion now in vogue in American fiction films, but largely because it marks the emergence of an important new talent in the Romanian writer and director Cristian Mungiu.

With a lack of ceremony and no music to set the mood, Mr. Mungiu opens “4 Months” on the pale, lithe Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) moving about a cramped university dorm room, rearranging this and that, and packing a plastic tablecloth in a travel bag while exchanging seeming banalities with Otilia (Anamaria Marinca, sensational and impeccably controlled). Because Mr. Mungiu writes words rather than exposition, he doesn’t explain what’s going on or why. It takes time for you to find the meaning in his words and the pauses in between them. You sift through naturalistic conversations that — much like the dorm’s grubby furnishings, its darkly lighted hallways and the mewling kittens Otilia finds in those grim passages — seem artless, more like real life than aesthetic choices.

But “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” is nothing if not a triumph of aesthetic choices, of fluidly moving camerawork, rigorous framing and sustained long shots that allow you to explore the image rather than try to catch hold of it. The film starts off quietly despite Gabita’s jitters, but subtly shifts registers once Otilia leaves to run some errands. With the camera sometimes leading and sometimes following, Otilia cruises through the long dorm halls, drops in on some other students and buys cigarettes from a resident vendor. There’s urgency in her step despite the casualness of these exchanges, an exigency that’s expressed both by the worry in her face and the way Mr. Mungiu keeps her steadily locked in his camera’s sights.

Over the course of the film this persistence of vision creates an extraordinary level of tension. Otilia, it soon emerges, has just begun a harrowing journey that will take her from one bleak hotel to another (where the customer is always and often comically wrong) and through a labyrinth of near-pitch-black streets and darker human behavior. Otilia will stand by Gabita, who will almost collapse in turn, and go up against her own lover, Adi (Alex Potocean), and a grotesque back-alley abortionist cruelly known as Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov, terrifying), who will test the limits of the women’s friendship. Throughout her odyssey Mr. Mungiu and his camera will keep watch on Otilia without close-ups, speeches, false morality or judgment.

What you get instead is a painstakingly real world of worn-out rooms and worn-out lives, and black-market deals over cigarettes and human bodies. The verisimilitude can be startling, enveloping. You see the history of this place etched in its people, in Otilia’s determined face and Gabita’s lissome form, which sways against difficulties like a reed. You see it too in the camerawork that, like Otilia, never relinquishes its intense focus yet seems to catch details — like the dog that passes near her when she first tries to book a hotel room — with the lightness of a happy accident. Hours later, during an unbearably tense scene when she’s surrounded by barking dogs on a desolate street, you realize there are no accidents here, just art.

In some respects Mr. Mungiu has created a fascinating companion piece to another recent Romanian tour de force, the 2005 drama “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” Directed by Cristi Puiu — and shot by Oleg Mutu, the ingenious director of photography for “4 Months” — “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” explores the intersection of the social and the personal on the human body, and the incalculable trivial and monumental ways our bodies are at once situated in the world as objects and subjects. Over the course of the torturous, inept hospitalization that eventually realizes the threat of the film’s title, Mr. Lazarescu’s body becomes a field of meaning, a landscape of despair and a site of brutal exchange among other, more robust bodies.

In interviews, Mr. Mungiu has resisted some of the metaphoric readings of his film (say, as an attack on the Ceausescu regime) and resisted making overt declarations on abortion. I’ve read more than once that the film is not about abortion (or even an abortion) but, rather, totalitarianism, a take that brings to mind Susan Sontag’s observation that “interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” This isn’t to say that “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” isn’t also about human will and the struggle for freedom in the face of state oppression, only to suggest that such readings can be limited and limiting. Mr. Mungiu never forgets the palpably real women at the center of his film, and one of its great virtues is that neither do you.

~~End~~

If you want to check the original article go here.

Even when I’m repeating myself many times I do insist in suggesting that this is such an outstanding story with incredibly good performances, amazing director that EVERYONE has to see.

Last, many thanks to my photographer friend for the tip about this great review and guess which movie I’ll be seeing soon? Yeah The Death of Mr. Lazarescu that my dearest friend let me borrow the dvd from him.

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