Romaniathon: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days - Can't Stop the Movies
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Romaniathon: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

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ANDREW LIKEAs opposed to wasting my time and precious writing moments to average-looking new movies this week I’ve decided to devote my attention elsewhere.  Over the next few days I’ll be looking at films of the Romanian New Wave.  If you’re new to the experience, so is everyone else.  This fresh batch of directors started cropping up in the middle of the new millenium and has quickly gained a staggering amount of stature in a very short time.

As tiresome as it is to label each fresh batch of country-specific filmmakers in a “wave” it’s hard to think of a different term.  Much like the Mexican New Wave in the late 90‘s to the 00‘s and the French New Wave of the 50's and 60's that spawned the whole trend, the Romanian New Wave is set to deliver a promising batch of talented directors.  At least that’s the plan.  Cuaron, Del Toro and Innaratu have all gone on to smashing success and haven’t really faltered once.  I can’t make the same prediction for the Romanians, but after the next few days I should have a good idea whether they’ll falter or ascend to godhood.

Let’s jet back to that wonderful year of 2007.  The cinematic riches of that time have spoiled my outlook on years that have followed but there was scant a film that I missed during those months.  Cue 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.  It was showered with awards from every country in the European Union and played to a decent amount of success in the states.

4 Months details a day in the life of the Ceausescu regime in Communist Romania in 1987.  Orilia (Anamaria Marinca) is our focal point into this world.  She is a student who becomes devoted to helping her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get an abortion.  During this time abortions were outlawed and the punishments that could be inflicted on recipient and those who help were incredibly severe.

Otilia is one hell of a main character.  She knows the in’s and out’s of every circle of illegal and official power figures and knows how to talk her way out of every situation.  Part of the considerable tension the movie sustains comes from examining how  finely tuned her survival instincts are.  As she moves from apartment to hotel to the streets she’s always aware of the authoritorial eye that is watching her every move.  This isn’t done as some kind of all encompassing Big Brother knock off, but in a series of quiet moments highlighting the suspicions of the government.

There are a series of stone faced women that check tickets on the bus, cops lurking around every corner, and all of the people in authority are always making sure their identification cards are present for every transaction.  No matter where you are something is needed to prove that you belong, and Otilia is most certainly not where she belongs.  It would have been very easy for director Cristian Mungiu to lay on the oppressive atmosphere to choking limits.  The high road is taken here instead, reminding us of the looming presence of the government instead of utilizing a series of electronic eyes and conspiracy theorists to ramble about control.

He also has a splendid eye for the rhythms of daily life for many different college students.  Each one of them has their own way of getting by, and we get brief flashes of the self contained survival techniques each one uses.  One student operates a sort of convenience store out of his dorm room, another plays to vanity and acquires beauty products to sell, another works as a prostitute.  These are the fortunate ones, they have the means of acquiring goods that they can barter, and begs the question of what everyone else does.

Perhaps they help arrange abortions.  For the first thirty minutes we don’t have the slightest idea why Otilia is running around town and when Gabita finally unites with her in the hotel room their differences become clear.  Revolution is on the horizon and people like Otilia are going to be on the front lines while folks like Gabita will remain shell shocked and quiet.  The abortionist, Mr. Bebe, is a scary man and he almost has good reason to be angry with them.  Gabita lies about money, plans, abortion locations, her relation to Otilia - all because she has little to no idea how bad it all really is.

Mungiu captures the first meeting between the three of them in one of many single takes.  His camera is patterned after a hand-held documentary approach but is not shaky or intrusive.  He still keeps a good sense of composition and clearly staged a lot of these scenes with an incredible amount of planning.  There’s room for a bit of  visual humor as well, as each dealing with authority takes place over a long counter that stretches off into the vanishing point.  Otilia will get the run around as long as they have the power to keep her moving.

Whether the two are successful or not is beside the point.  The film keeps referring back to the cyclical nature of their situation.  One or the other may get pregnant again, and the system is set up so that they cannot safely choose to take fate into their own hands.  The final shot of the film emphasizes this beautifully, reminding us that what we just witnessed is a hollow echo if real change does not occur.

But it did, and now the Romanian filmmakers are flooding out to greet us all.  Overall, I was incredibly satisfied with 4 Months.  It had an immediacy and confidence that is lacking in a lot of debut features.  Mungiu was also unafraid to end his film on the logical note, as any other shot would have been hypocritical to all that came before.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and hope that he doesn't just keep popping back.

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4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007)

Directed by Cristian Mungiu.
Written by Cristian Mungiu.
Starring Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu.

Posted by Andrew

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