Thursday, August 11, 2016

Best of the 2000s: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

5 Stars

I had been steeling myself against 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days almost since this project began. I even made a brief reference to it in my review of Finding Nemo when I commented on the emotional grind that many of the films in this Best of the 2000s project appeared slated to be. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days deals with a topic on which it is incredibly easy to say the wrong thing.

Set in Romania in 1987, the title refers to the age of a fetus, or perhaps more precisely to the length of time since Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) last experienced her period. She is pregnant and enlists her friend, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), to help her arrange an illegal abortion. Paralyzed by fear, Gabita manipulates Otilia into doing virtually everything from simple tasks like renting the hotel room where they will perform the procedure to meeting the Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the shady doctor who will perform the procedure.

Abortion is a topic that is politically and emotionally fraught, but 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days doesn’t strike me as a particularly political film. Certainly, it contains elements that both sides of the debate could point to in support of their cause. Otilia and Gabita place themselves at extreme risk precisely because the procedure is illegal. Some of the worst things that happen to them in this film would never happen if the girls had a safe and legal means of obtaining the procedure rather than being forced to deal with criminals. On the other hand, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days depicts a fetus of that age as, to my eyes at least, looking very much like a baby, and Gabita even insists that they bury the body. That said, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not about abortion as a political topic, but about an abortion obtained by Otilia for Gabita.

The signature of achievement of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the creation of a drama that plays like a thriller. It contains all the emotional highs and impacts of great thrillers while still being about people who are completely ordinary. Otilia and Gabita are not spies, master thieves, rich men being set up by their mistresses, or wives being gas-lighted by their murderous husbands. They are two young girls who undertake a criminal conspiracy, but it is of such a common variety that it is not even the focus of a specific investigation. Nevertheless, as the film progresses every time that a phone rings, a police car drifts by, a dog barks, or a hotel clerk asks for identification, they are threatened with exposure.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is superbly written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. He conjures precisely the right amount paranoia to craft a memorable thriller and the right amount of ordinary life to read as a compelling college drama. The film depends on a fantastic performance by Anamaria Marinca, which she delivers.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not an easy film to recommend. It’s subject matter is likely to prove difficult for some, but I have no doubt that it deserves to be on the list of the best films of the 2000s. Seven of the surveyed critics agreed with me. The same number also enjoyed the next film on my list, The Dark Knight.

From Out in the Void

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