Sunday, December 28, 2008


Limited choices

By Edward Copeland
If you turned off the soundtrack and removed the subtitles of many of the best modern films from foreign countries, you could almost tell that there is no way they came from an American eye. The sensibility and compositions are different, not in a showy way, but in a simple yet powerful way. Add the sounds and the word, especially in a film as profound as Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, you wonder why so few American films are as good.

Thanks to the bizarre way in which foreign films get treated in the United States, there is much confusion as to whether 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days counts as a 2007 or a 2008 release.

Last year, it received critics' awards and a Golden Globe nomination. It apparently was submitted by Romania for the Oscar for foreign language film, but it didn't make the cut. As is often the case, screeners are sent for the potential foreign language nominees whether or not they've had an actual public release. Two of the five films the National Board of Review listed among their best foreign films this year apparently meet this case as IMDb shows no evidence that they've been released in the U.S.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days though did get a 2008 release, opening in limited release in January 2008 and reviewed the same day by both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, even though the L.A. Film Critics gave it awards in 2007 and the N.Y. Film Critics named it best foreign film for 2008. Anyway, for my purposes, I'm calling it a 2008 release and no matter what year it should belong to, it is a very good film.

Set in 1987 Romania, when the iron fist of communism as implemented by Nicolae Ceausecu still reigned, 4 Months tells the story of Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a university student who decides to help her dorm roommate Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) secure an abortion, something both illegal and dangerous where they live.

Making the mission even more difficult is the fact that Gabita is a bit of a dim bulb who can't or won't follow instructions and tells lies about how far along her pregnancy is for fear she won't find an abortionist willing to terminate her pregnancy.

Marinca gives an excellent performance as a woman with the patience of a saint who will literally do anything for her friend, doing her best to avoid drawing the attention of authorities and keeping her boyfriend happy by making an appearance at his mother's awful birthday party with older, snobby friends.

Her biggest test comes with the faceoff with Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the abortionist for hire.

Writer-director Mungui isn't coming from a Western perspective, so 4 Months isn't there to debate the abortion issue and it really isn't that heavy on the communist angle. He's just telling a story of what things were like in Romania at a particular time and his cast, his script and his spot-on direction turns it into a riveting tale that resonates across all borders.

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Glad to hear you liked this one, Ed...I caught it on the Sundance on Demand channel offered by my cable company and couldn't turn away from it the entire time it ran. The birthday party scene is incredible!
'Incredible' is one word that could describe that scene, 'incredibly interminable and indulgent' are four others...
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