Saturday, July 05, 2008

4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days: Grade A

4 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days (2007) (Romanian, Subtitled)
Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu.

In Romania, just before the fall of communism, a college student (Vasiliu), needs an illegal abortion. Her roommate and friend (Marinca) helps her through the whole process, which is completed successfully. At one level then, it is a story of friendship, in which the implicit understanding of what it means to be a woman, especially in this environment, pulls the women through almost unimaginable stress.

Is it a pro-choice statement? An abortion does take place, but the extremely bleak environment, the unblinking anti-sentimentalism of the cinematography, emotionally honest dialog, and difficult consequences of the story make me wonder if it is. It could as well be an anti-abortion message. I’d say it is neutral on that dichotomy. I don’t think that was the issue being addressed.

It is also about Romania under communism. The bare winter trees and slushy roads describe the cultural climate, while the scenes of making hotel reservations convey the stifling bureaucracy perfectly, and we feel the background of paranoia that permeates everybody’s life. The movie succeeds on that level as well.

But at it’s core, the story focuses on the conflict between the roommate’s (or any woman’s) socially defined personality, and the biological facticity of reproduction. For these women, conception is a biological punishment for the social act of sex, but in a horrific scene, we also see that the social value of sex can be used to regain control of the body. This conflict between a woman’s biology and personality is the driver of the story, all the more remarkable for it having been written and directed by a man.

Brilliant cinematography, directing, acting, and editing tell the story as well as the dialog. The roommate has dinner with her boyfriend’s parents, where there is joking, singing, story-telling, and wine, in a warm, brightly-lit atmosphere of educated people surrounded by books and laughter. In the next scene, in a stark hotel, the quack doctor negotiates his price. Then it is the harsh reality of the procedure. We are, with the protagonist, plunged from the socially constructed world of the dinner party, ten stories down a chute to the biological foundation of reproduction, with such suddenness that we are disoriented, as are the two women. In the final scene, the women sip water in the hotel restaurant, waiting for the only food left on the late-night menu. They can hardly speak to each other, they are so stunned by what has happened. The waiter brings the food, what was served at the concurrent wedding party: cooked brains, liver, and marrow, a healthy, high protein meal, no doubt. The dish is pushed aside without a word.

1 comment:

  1. This movie was so difficult for me to watch, but it is so well made, it's a must-see.