4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
Romanian Title: 4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile
Abortion has been a topic that has divided the populace everywhere; there are those who reject it as a morally abhorrent while there are those who accept it as practical and concurrent with women's rights. That's basically the problem with films that tackle the sensitive topic, as it's very difficult to discuss the topic without being too preachy or too apathetic (successful films about abortion like Ishmael Bernal's Hinugot sa Langit (Snatched from Heaven, 1985), which pits the practicality of abortion in a society that frowns upon it, and Mike Leigh's Vera Drake (2004), which breathes an air of humanity to the commonly villainous abortionist, successfully balance the two extremes).
Cristian Mungiu's Cannes winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not so much about abortion as it is about the repulsive feeling that surrounds it. There's a political milieu (Romania at the deathbed of Ceausescu regime, where abortion was strictly outlawed to support the government's planned population boom) but it's subtle, subtle enough to go unnoticed. With the almost universal shame in committing abortion (even in countries where abortion is legal), the film could have taken place anywhere and anytime.
It's early scenes wherein Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is doing the rounds about Bucharest, helping her pregnant friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) secure a location for the abortion appointment. Along with the mundane chaos of dorm living, we are already entreated with a casual observation of the proliferation of black market-distributed capitalist goodies (cigarettes, candies and beauty products) and other security measures (identification cards, etc.), enough to give a well-founded belief that certain freedoms are taken away. The abortion has all been planned but there's an unpredictable and discomforting disarray in the happenings --- the reservation with the hotel wasn't recorded, the birthday party of Otilia's boyfriend (Alexandru Potocean) she has to attend, money problems.
Mr. Bebe (an intensely sly Vlad Ivanov), the shrewd abortionist contacted by Gabita as recommended by a friend, is depicted as painfully manipulative, a business-minded devil with all the vices of a single middle-aged man living with his mother. He knows the ladies' dilemma and uses it as a bargaining piece; he knows he will not be rejected. The collateral to the undervalued operation is even more staining than the act of abortion itself; Otilia unwantingly gets into the groove of the stickiness and grime of the "hush hush" ongoings of the underground business. A stroke of dark humor can be observed when the actual act of abortion is as quick and easy as any routine injection; the fuss over everything becomes painful absurdity.
The film's meant to be dark and overwhelming but Mungiu has a distinct dark sense of humor. He acknowledges the absurdity of the penal provisions regarding abortion (aborting a 4 month old fetus equates to murder, a younger fetus means less time in the jail) or the ridiculous silence and ignorance of the general public on how, when and where to get an abortion. Otilia's numb and bleak demeanor after the abortion (juxtaposed to Gabita's cool and disattached relief the moment the fetus is out; she begs for a semblance of moral uprightness by requesting her baby be buries, but we know better) turns the rest of the film into a grim and depressing process of completing her obligations and disposing the fetus, before ending in what could be the most absurd conclusion to any abortion film (Otilia and Gabita seated for a dinner, backgrounded by a wedding party in one of the hotel's function rooms).
Mungiu's virtuosic visual sparseness intensifies the drama; there are only a couple of times wherein he requires his audience to cringe (which I thought wasn't really necessary) but the rest of the film is shot in distantly personal tracking shots or effective close-ups (he manages to get the best out of his actors and actresses), which sums up this very perceptive Romanian film as a gripping examination of the alienating, corruptive, and damning effects of the silly circumstances one has to go through to sneakily pierce through the government policy of disallowing abortion.