All of a sudden hardcore cinephiles are going ga-ga for ‘the Romanian New Wave’ (not very original, admittedly). Four films have won major prizes at Cannes in the last three years, culminating in the 2007 Palme d’Or for Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. It’s fair to say this is a turn up – we haven’t exactly been inundated with Romanian cinema in the past, and these days Romania produces just six films a year, less than any other country in Europe. So, just what is going on here?
Like The Death Of Mr Lazarescu, Mungiu’s film is a bracing exercise in down and dirty realism which doesn’t flinch from rubbing our faces in a subject the movies generally sanitise. In this case the issue is abortion. It presents a desperately punishing day in the life of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a Good Samaritan stuck in one of the inner-circles of Hell (otherwise known as Romania, 1987, under the regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu).
For reasons that become clear over time, we see her borrowing money from her boyfriend and helping her wretched roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) to get her things together. The first clue that something unusual is going to happen is the attention Gabita pays to the tablecloth, which she means to take on her trip. But the lion’s share of the arrangements falls to Otilia – and she’s the one who meets the mysterious Mr Bebe (Vlad Ivanov)…
Mungiu shoots one continuous take per scene, building up a tough, almost unbearable sense of events playing out in real time as Mr Bebe finally gets down to work. This is harrowing stuff. Even when Otilia excuses herself for an hour it only ratchets up the tension. It’s safe to say Hollywood isn’t going to touch this particular subject with a barge pole. But this isn’t so much an issue-movie (Mungiu lets us draw our own conclusions), it’s more a matter of throwing a cold spotlight on the darkest corners of human behaviour. Eli Roth, eat your heart out!
A gruelling, naturalistic account of a backstreet abortion rooted in a grotty social context, this awards-grabber isn't for the lily-livered. Undeniably truthful, unbearably tense, it's a stark portrait of humanity in extremis.