In a recent and disturbing trend in American filmmaking, there seems to be a preponderance of stories of accidentally pregnant young women who decide to keep their babies: Judd Aptow's Knocked Up
, Adrienne Shelly's Waitress
, and Ivan Reitman's Juno
, a film festival hit that will be released later this year. Abortions may still be legal in this country, but according to examples on the silver screen, no one is having them.
In stark contrast is first time Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu's devastating drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
. The film, awarded the Palme D'or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of a young woman who helps her friend obtain an illegal abortion in 1980s Communist Romania. It's a riveting, wrenching, horrifying and beautifully told story.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days begins with two college roommates making preparations for a trip. Final exams are underway, but the students are going away nevertheless, packing their bags, cleaning their dorm room, debating over taking notes for exams they will miss and the feeding of the goldfish.
Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is the pregnant one, but she's maddeningly helpless. It's Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) who takes charge of the situation -- small, pretty, blond, no-nonsense Otilia who is forced to make all the difficult and complicated negotiations: from securing the hotel room where the procedure will be performed to placating the demanding abortionist (the convincingly creepy Vlad Ivanov). Otilia even helps pay the high cost of Gabita's abortion with a chilling act of sacrifice too great to expect of any friendship.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days takes place over the course of one long and menacing day. Mungui creates a grim landscape of dilapidated buildings, dark hallways and green gray rooms. In long, hand-held takes, the camera bears witness to the events in what feels like real time. Anamaria Marinca is a marvelous actress; appearing in every scene, she carries the day's horror on her face.