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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

I'm sure everyone out there has someone like this in their life - an eternal optimist who walks around like the sun is shining out their ass and doesn't look as though they believe that the world is the soul-crushing prison it obviously is. Well, if you want to wipe that smile of their face simply suggest a screening of Christian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Set in communist Romania this film, best described with adjectives like bleak, dreary and more depressing than a bleeding clown (the funny kind not the evil kind), follows two women as they try and skirt the system in getting an illegal abortion.

The subject matter isn't exactly sunshine and puppy dogs and many, including myself, may think why the hell would I want to endure two hours of soul-numbing torture just to see an icky medical procedure? Thankfully that is a question that has several answers.

First, the movie transcends the red flags it throws up. Yes, much of the movie is about an off the grid abortion, and much of it is emotionally draining, but Mungiu almost makes the situation of the girls fade into the background. He frames the difficult sequences with scenes of daily life in Romania - the difficulty in attaining tic-tacs, the convoluted beurocratic process of getting from place to place and checking into a hotel and even a late night coffee break. Outside, the streets are cracked, the trees are bare and starved dogs straggle about, while the building interiors (even the fancy ones) look like they were decorated by a blind frat boy. These environmental touches make the movie less about the big 'A' and more about daily life in an authoritarian society. The girls' situation may be terrible to us, but hey, that's just how things were.

Speaking of the girls, the performances here are mostly top-notch. Both female leads (Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasilu) carry themselves well; easily pulling off the extremes of low-key ambivalence and sheer panic that this movie calls for. The true star here, however, is Vlad Ivanov who plays the abortion doctor. I have no qualms saying that Ivanov gives us one of the best movie villains ever. He doesn't twirl his moustache, or foolishly give away his evil plans for world domination but he does oscillate wildly between a kindly Dr. Vlad demeanor, who's just as likely to give you a lollipop as an abortion, and a maniacally agressive DOC-TOR VLAD who isn't sure if he wants to rape you or simply leave you bleeding to death in your own afterbirth. No matter the extreme the good/bad doctor is enthralling to watch and basically carries the medical subplot.

That being said, there is some unneccessary fluff here. Despite the fact that the woman getting the abortion has no men in the picture, Mungiu seems to think that he needs to drive home the point that men are evil. In the middle of a gripping scene in which one of the girls is sitting through menial dinner conversation while waiting for word from the other girl, who may or may not be dying, Mungiu sees fit to cut to an extended sequence in which the dinner girl's (I really need to learn their names) smarmy boyfriend asks her to go upstairs to his room - apparently to give non-commital answers to the state of their relationship if the girl ever gets pregnant. This was totally pointless - I already understood the point - don't let my daughter date a Romanian.

In the end, 4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is a gripping examination of just how much a shoddily run society can mess up a person's life. It may be depressing, draining and difficult. but hey, if those experiences help you to think about life then you should just give it a whirl. Watching this film, is kinda like going on the Tea Cups at Disneyland, vomitting all over the place while the sucker is spinning but then appreciating the solid ground you stand on once the experience is over.


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