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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamini si 2 zile)

Starkly, brutally honest, Cristian Mungiu's well-acted abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days paints a bleak picture of Romanian life in the late '80s.


It's 1987 in Nicolae Ceausescu's totalitarian Romania. University student Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) nervously packs for a trip of some kind, while her more practical roommate, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), tends to various last-minute details. It gradually becomes clear that Otilia is helping her flightier friend arrange an illegal abortion--an offense that will send them both to jail if they're discovered. Things only get worse when the abortionist, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), turns out to be a cold, condescending, hostile man with his own agenda. As dependable Otilia struggles to juggle her loyalty to her friend with her precarious relationship with chemistry student Adi (Alexandru Potocean) and her own fears, she navigates a world that's as bleak as the situation she's facing.


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days offers the kind of challenging roles that many actors dream of, and its stars are more than up to the task. The two leads imbue their performances with such a convincing realism that the movie almost feels like a documentary at times. Marinca is particularly strong; Otilia says volumes without speaking a word, and sometimes just hearing her ragged breath is enough to let audiences know what she's feeling. Vasiliu, meanwhile, is both endearing and maddening as Gabriela, manipulating her friendship with Otilia to her advantage without any idea of how selfish she's being. Rounding out the core cast is Ivanov, whose Bebe is utterly despicable in a contained, disciplined way that makes him even more loathsome than a violent brute would be. The fact that the two young women are at his mercy casts a stark light on the realities of life in late-'80s Romania.


One of the things that sets so many foreign films apart from their Hollywood-produced cousins is their willingness to linger--on faces, conversations, difficult images--and 4 Months is no exception. Director Cristian Mungiu offers long, unbroken shots of his actors as they talk or think or walk, giving the viewers time to take in their emotions--and the actors the time to express those emotions with small gestures and expressions. And he doesn't shy away from the dark side of the world he's re-creating, whether it's the literal darkness of the many dank, twisting streets Otilia walks through or the more figurative darkness represented by the outcome of Gabriela's abortion. With no musical score to give audiences cues on how to feel, 4 Months relies solely on its story to provoke a reaction--and that's more than enough.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.