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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008
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Robert J. Lewis
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In This World
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Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm


reviewed by



4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, directed by Cristian Mungiu, played at the 2007 Festival Nouveau Cinéma. Philippa Hawker, who writes for The Age, gave the film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

There's a sense of very different kinds of time at work in Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a quietly powerful, engrossing movie that won the Palme d'Or for best film at Cannes and numerous awards at other festivals.

Among other things, it's a movie about duration, urgency, inevitability.

The title refers to the elapsed stage of a pregnancy: the film itself takes place over the course of a day and night, and it plays out in long, slow, spellbinding but sometimes agonizingly eventful takes, which have the effect of both intimacy and distance, discretion and insistent focus. There is the feeling of the camera's steady, unflinching contemplation, whether we are being shown a character moving about a room, an encounter between two people or an extended scene full of overlapping conversations and exchanges.

Sometimes, Mungiu elides events, and sometimes he allows them to unfold with real-time awkwardness, but what is on screen is never less than compelling.

The movie is set in Ceausescu-era Romania of the 1980s. Its focus is on two young women, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabi (Laura Vasiliu), who are roommates in a university dormitory. Otilia is at the centre of the film, and it is her progress that we follow, as we watch her assembling supplies, items that have either a practical application or can be used as bribes or gifts to smooth over arrangements and make deals. Brand names are talismanic: a packet of Kent cigarettes seems to be the most desirable item of exchange.

Gradually it also becomes clear that something specific is being organised: Gabi is pregnant and has sought an abortion, and Otilia is coming with her to help her through the process. It also becomes apparent, as Otilia goes about the task, that Gabi's arrangements are flawed, that she his leaving things to Otilia to work out if there are complications or difficulties.

Marinca - who appeared in David Yates' TV series Sex Traffic -- makes Otilia a purposeful, resilient character, self-aware and resourceful. Vasiliu gives Gabi a pliant, recessive presence, a kind of deflecting energy. She creates spaces that Otilia is forced to fill. Otilia has to renegotiate on her friend's behalf, and make arrangements that Gabi has failed to follow through with. It is Otilia who makes contact with the abortionist, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov).

Ivanov presents Bebe as a disconcerting combination of matter-of-factness, self-righteousness, aggression and predatory ruthlessness. But whatever tone he adopts, he presents himself as the victim, as the one taking risks and being taken advantage of. It's a deftly conveyed, distressingly convincing performance.

Otilia has another responsibility. She also has to incorporate into her schedule an event that her boyfriend demands that she attend - his mother's birthday dinner. At the dinner table, Otilia sits quietly: in this beautifully observed scene, there is the sense of a different set of pressures, another social hierarchy, another world of negotiations and deals, systems and expectations.

What Mungiu evokes is a world of rigid controls and rules, and ways in which people circumvent, exploit or are compelled by these restrictions. It might be steeped in the details of a historical moment, it might have grimly specific scenes that revolve around a specific event, but it is not simply about a particular time and place. Nor is it "about" abortion, in the way, for example, that Vera Drake is.

It is a precisely detailed, resonant account of individual survival mechanisms, choices and decisions.

Also reviewed by Philippa Hawker:

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