Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days & r & & r & by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t no point in Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days is the audience allowed to get comfortable. Writer/director Cristian Mungiu sets us down, mid-scramble, into a world most Americans aren't even aware of. Otilia, played by the wonderful, stoic Anamaria Marinca, walks around some kind of dwelling, going from room to room rounding up some pills here, some money there. We get snippets to suggest where we are and what she may be doing, but nothing concrete. There are multiple beds in each cramped, run-down room. Is this a dormitory? Otilia is dressed in street clothes, but a few women are in uniform.
Her roommate, Gabita, is packing to go somewhere and Otilia seems to be helping. They speak in hushed tones, Gabita with a strained hiss. She seems scared to death and unsteady, as if a stiff breeze could knock her over. The two women exchange what turns out to be a serious amount of money, then make plans for meeting later in the day. Otilia tells Gabita not to forget a few trivial items and then leaves.
Though it's about abortion and control in 1980s Romania, Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days is also about keeping secrets. Mungiu treats even incidental facts about his characters like information that must be hidden from prying eyes. Only after a half hour of film do we realize that the two women are students, that Gabita's trip is just across town, that she's going to a hotel room that Otilia will reserve for her. Gabita is furtively trying to end a pregnancy she didn't expect, doesn't want and, judging by her frailty, couldn't handle. Abortion was illegal at the time, like almost everything else in Romania.
Under Communist autocrat Nicolae Ceausescu, an already dictatorial regime in Romania had become worse. Using brutal methods, Ceausescu had tightened his grip on power by extending the power of the secret police. It's estimated that, under Ceausescu, the Securitate had 11,000 agents and a half-million informants.
Mungiu's great triumph here is that he doesn't show us Ceausescu or his police or any of these statistics. What he shows us are sidelong glances from transit authorities, intrusive questions from hotel clerks and the sense that everyone in the country is on the lookout, either for police or for law breakers or for angles on somehow profiting off misery and oppression.
Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days isn't a thriller, strictly speaking. It's hard to remember cinematic sequences, though, as fraught with tension and quiet paranoia as when Otilia navigates the streets, looking for a hotel room that will act as an operating room; or when she looks for a certain brand of contraband cigarette with which to bribe a certain hotel clerk; or when she ventures out to meet the man (calling him a doctor would be too much) who will terminate Gabita's pregnancy. The cops are never seen, but they're omnipresent.
Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days is a plain-eyed, naturalistic portrayal of what has to be one of the most difficult things in the world, the decision to terminate a pregnancy. In historical context, though, it becomes something more: an examination of the heroic lengths people will go to wrest control of their own lives back from those who have taken it. It's the most quietly horrifying film I've seen in years. (Not Rated)