Opening in the middle of a conversation between two female students – one of them off screen – and eschewing exposition as the camera follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) out of the shabby dorm and into a rundown provincial town, it is not until the 33rd minute of this brutal masterpiece that writer/director Cristian Mungiu puts his dog-eared cards on the table.
That’s right: the ‘Romanian abortion movie’ makes no mention of abortion until Otila’s roommate, Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu), is faced by the sanctimonious Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). “How many months are you?” he asks as he clicks open his briefcase and removes a length of plastic tubing. It’s worth mentioning because it says everything about 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Intelligent, exacting, curtly refusing to spoon-feed viewers, this brilliantly performed ordeal of a movie also out-suspenses any American thriller you care to mention, drip-feeding information as it urgently tracks the girls on their jagged, volatile journey.
Shot in long takes comprised of skeetering, seesawing tracking shots and querulous conversations boxed in static tableaux, 4 Months… hustles and harrows as events spin out (of control) over one winter afternoon and evening in 1987. Mungiu’s drama never resorts to overt politicking, yet admonishes Ceausescu’s regime by presenting a squalid world inhabited by sleazy authority figures and jaundiced, rancorous functionaries. Degradation is etched on every face. Desperation peels from every frame. That 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days emerges as a profoundly humanist work is a shock and a joy. Extras unavailable.