4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days
The winner of last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, writer-director Cristian Mungiu’s impressively acted 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days explores a long, dark night of the soul in late 1980s Romania, unfolding towards the end of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship. We first meet university students Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in drab dormitory accommodation.
While packing an overnight bag, Otilia pops out to barter for cigarettes and soap, before telling her boyfriend that she may be late for his mother’s birthday dinner that evening. It emerges that Otilia is helping the terrified Gabita to get ready for an illegal termination, which will be carried out by the abortionist Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) in a hotel room. But when the latter discovers that the women do not have enough money for the procedure, and that Gabita has lied about exactly how long she’s been pregnant — hence the title — Bebe demands that he is paid in both cash and sexual favours.
The word ‘communism’ is never mentioned in this film and yet it grippingly portrays the everyday challenges for ‘ordinary’ people of surviving under a totalitarian regime. Shooting in muted tones on unprepossessing real locations, Mungiu proves himself to be a masterly visual storyteller. Eschewing music and close-ups, he combines long, fixed takes with handhelds shots that follow the movements of the actors, and these techniques force us to witness the ordeals endured by the characters.
In one stunning sequence, the camera is fixed on Otilia during a dinner party, whilst off-screen we can hear the chatter of the other guests and the sound of a telephone ringing. Rather than cutting back to Gabita’s plight, Mungiu keeps his gaze on Otilia, who is silently attempting to keep her emotions in check. The tension, in other words, derives not from montage, but from mise-en-scene and our capacity to imagine what might be happening to somebody else.
Comparisons have already been drawn to Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu, and both these Romanian films share a dark and ironic humour. With the horror of the day’s events still fresh in their mind, the two women are served up a platter of meat, whilst a wedding reception which hindered their booking has degenerated into violence. Like the Dardenne brothers and Robert Bresson before him, Cristian Mungiu imbues rigour and compassion to the tensest of dramas.
GFT, Glasgow; Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 11 Jan.