4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the first Romanian film to ever win the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. The film tackles the horrors of trying to receive a black market abortion in a country where it is illegal and highly punishable. It strongly condemns Romanian society for allowing events like this to take place, but does not tread lightly on the mental hardship which some women experience with abortion either. Along with these ideas, the film explores friendship, relationships, masculinity, and power, as it follows the two main characters (Otilia and Gabita). This 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days review will contain minor SPOILERS.
Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) are dorm roommates in Romania during the 1980s, living under the reign of Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu – although he or his reign are not explicitly discussed in the film. Gabita is pregnant, and Otilia is planning to help her get a black-market abortion. The film follows Otilia as she gets everything ready for Gabita – getting money from her oblivious boyfriend, booking the hotel room where the event will occur, meeting up with the man who will perform the abortion (Domnu Bebe played by Vlad Ivanov), and disposing of the fetus after it is complete. Through all of this, Gabita is proving to be as insensible as possible, as she lies about her pregnancy, forgets items at the dorm, sends Otilia in her place to meet Bebe despite his insistence that Gabita comes, and failing to book a hotel.
Abortion is explored from a social and psychological perspective. The movie is clearly a form of social commentary on the necessity of access to safe abortions. It shows how women are forced into endangering their lives a risking absurd jail time for even contemplating these measures. Bebe helps represent this masculine power held over the women in Romania because with or without these laws, he would be finding a way to benefit from abortion, whereas women can only win in one way. But the film doesn’t just look at abortion in this social light. Instead, it takes on the mental aspects of it and shows how it is no easy choice for anyone despite its legal status.
The relationship between Otilia and Gabita compared to Otilia and her boyfriend (Adi) presents an interesting character study that helps explore friendship and relationships during trying times. Gabita is a terribly frustrating character. It is hard to speak ill of her given the circumstances, but every action she performs leads both her and Otilia closer to physical and legal harm. We see a character seemingly using another person to achieve her goal (even leading to the rape of them both). This impressively does not lead to any lack of sympathy towards Gabita’s position (if it did, it would be a poor choice for the film’s message) but instead was just able to create impressive and real characters.
With Adi, Otilia is experiencing another form of masculine control. Adi, even after watching the entire film, has a seeming sense of innocence about him. He wants to know what she is doing, why she needs money, who she is calling, etc. He presents the more socially acceptable masculine role rather than the more extreme version presented in Bebe. His questioning and inability to allow Otilia true independence is clearly a statement on the normalized version of this type of masculinity in a more modern world (i.e when the film was made vs. when it takes place). It shows how he presents a more “rational” reason for the banning of abortion rather than the purely power-hungry reason under the Ceausescu leadership, but in reality, the reasons are altogether the same.
Highs and Lows
While 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days does not use any score or many artistic camera techniques, what it does is tell a straightforward story of immense power. It takes the situation the girls are in and does not allow bias or any form of over-sentimentalism to shove the message of the film in your face. It simply presents real human emotion, and whether or not you agree with the decision being made, it is almost impossible to not sympathize with the characters.
The acting is also phenomenal, especially with Otilia, Gabita, and Bebe. Their hotel room scene specifically lasts an incredibly long time with very few changes in the camera position. It is pure dialogue and emotion. But nonetheless, the actors are able to create so much tension and distress between the characters that every moment is captivating. Their superb acting takes what would typically be a slower-paced art-house style film and gives it the suspense of a thriller. There is almost never a moment where I found myself bored or wishing a scene would move on.
The movie’s major fault is that it does not give the audience a reason to understand the necessity of or desire for an abortion. This may lead people who are anti-abortion to stick to their beliefs. Even with the horrors they need to go through in a country where it is illegal, if an audience member has no reason to change their view on the act itself then they most likely will not do it given what is shown. There needed to be something else to Gabita’s character – maybe more of her life in the dorm rooms, or scenes with the child’s father, or some desire to achieve something more for herself. The movie does have an incredible message, but without this other discussion, it is simply preaching to the choir.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a powerful display of filmmaking. It has a message it wants to state, and without taking the liberty of using camera work or melancholy music, gets that message across and breaks your heart at the same time. It tackles abortion respectfully to all parties and still manages to tie in other themes such as the issues with hypermasculinity, friendship, and romantic relationships. While I do wish the film would have touched on a few other themes in order to drive home the message to those who need it most, I still think it is an excellent movie that needs to be seen.
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