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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Movie So Good, It's No Surprise The Oscars Gave It The Shaft"
5 stars

Having heard about the new Romanian import “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days” ever since it came out of nowhere to win the top prize at last year’s Cannes film festival for its depiction of a young woman attempting to secure a secret abortion for a friend at a time when such a procedure was highly illegal, I had pretty much expected to see a grim and unsparing film and that is what I got. What I wasn’t expecting and what I was stunned to discover was just how low-key and unsensational it turned out to be despite the sensational subject matter. Instead of taking the easier and more obvious path of hitting viewers over the head with its rage so that there is no danger of any of them missing the points that he is trying to make, writer-director Christian Mungiu has made the choice to let the material play out in a calm and even-handed manner in the hopes that the despair and barely-contained anger that he is trying to convey will come through without having to underline them for those slower on the uptake. It was a brilliant decision and the resulting film is one of the most powerful social dramas to come along in a long time–a minimalist work of art that is so powerful to behold in virtually every aspect that I was not surprised at all to discover that the people in charge of the Foreign-Language Film nomination committee for the Academy Awards, the same August group that once bestowed the prize to that leaden piffle “A Man and a Woman” over a little something called “The Battle of Algiers” and ignored Akira Kurosawa’s magnificent comeback “Kagemusha” for the likes of the little-remembered “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” not only failed to nominate it for the award, they didn’t even vote it onto this year’s shortlist of eligible titles.

Set in Romania in the late 1980's during the waning days of the feared Ceaucescu regime, the film opens on a pair of university roommates, Otilla (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), as they are methodically preparing to go off and do something that involves procuring such hard-to-find items as money, black-market cigarettes and a hotel room. Eventually, we discover that the child-like Gabita is pregnant and the strong-willed Otilla is helping her to procure an abortion, a procedure that had been made illegal in Romania two decades earlier. Of course, there is always someone willing to fill such a void for a price and Otilla tracks down a man who is willing to perform the procedure for a price. Unfortunately for them, this particular abortionist, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) is not the friendly type embodied by Imelda Staunton in Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake”–he is cynical and suspicious and his anger that the girls were not able to book a room in the hotel he told them to go to is exacerbated when he realizes that Gabita is further along in her pregnancy than she has led him to believe. Nevertheless, he goes through with the procedure, after negotiating an additional fee for the additional risks that he now has to take, and when he leaves, Gabita is left lying in bed in a dangerously vulnerable condition waiting for the miscarriage to occur while Otilla is forced to leave her side in order to attend the birthday party of her boyfriend’s mother, an extended sequence that Mungiu stages in such a convincingly oppressive and excruciating manner that we find ourselves squirming and sweating in our seats right along with Otilla.

What is so fascinating about “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days” is Mungiu has taken material that could have made for an earnestly one-note melodrama about a woman’s right to an abortion in the hands of many filmmakers and instead transformed it into something far more complex and interesting while still maintaining a stark and minimalist approach. Although the film is clearly pro-choice in tone, it actually works just as well as an indictment of any repressive societal climate in which there is an imminent threat of danger for anyone who violates or even dares to question the rules–the name “Ceaucescu” is never uttered and we never see any policemen at any time during the film but the danger they represent is conveyed in such an overwhelming manner that their presence is felt in virtually every shot. The characters are also developed in interesting ways as well that also serve to defy expectations. Otilla starts off as the strong and self-assured type but as the incredible pressures of the day begin to bear down upon her, she finds herself beginning to succumb to the strain. When we first see Gabita, she comes across as the kind of innocent pure spirit that is often found at the centers of films of this type but as the story goes on, she begins to come across as less child-like than childish and even as you find yourself feeling for her situation, you may also find yourself thinking her to be the kind of person who knows that she can mess up because there will always be someone around to help clean up her mess. Even the abortionist is given additional levels of shading–yes, he comes across as somewhat of a monster and the price that he extracts from Otilla for his services is unforgivable but at the same time, we come to realize that his chilly and cruel demeanor is the inevitable result of having to work in the shadows under constant threat of arrest and this knowledge lends him a certain degree of sympathy towards his own circumstances that most films would have excised completely.

Because of its dark subject matter and relentlessly unsparing tone, there is a danger that “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days” may wind up becoming the kind of art-house exploitation film that some people will see just to say that they managed to sit through it while many others will simply avoid altogether. That would be a shame because this is not the kind of film that relies on visceral detail to get its point across–outside of one key shot, all of the gynecological details are suggested rather than depicted in a graphic, head-on manner. Instead, it uses the basic fundamentals of quality filmmaking–a smart screenplay, brilliant performances and a steady directorial hand–to make its dramatic points in a quietly forceful manner. Regardless of your position in the abortion debate, you owe it to yourself to see this film, a stirring drama about the search for hope and humanity in a culture where hopelessness and inhumanity have taken control.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16487&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/08/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/25/15 David H. One of the most gripping and riveting films I've ever seen. 5 stars
1/05/15 thomas crap 1 stars
10/19/10 Benchwarmer One of the most important films of the last decade! 5 stars
6/02/10 User Name The exact oppisite of an abortion. 5 stars
5/14/09 mani not a movie,its a slice of life.no acting,its performance.and no direction,its observation 5 stars
3/23/09 lalaland a really good movie...but overrated imo 4 stars
1/11/09 Anonymous. interesting, i never knew abortion was outlawed at one time in romania... 4 stars
9/05/08 Rada Sarbu I'm so proud of this movie. But not of the subject. Romania isn't like that anymore. 4 stars
9/04/08 pHylum Learned much about 1980's Romania. Film opens very skillfully. 4 stars
6/12/08 jcjs33 astounding, subtle yet beyong dynamic, fresh, bold, real, simple, oh so human 5 stars
3/02/08 Nicholas Plowman Fiercly honest, yet another film about abortion, but this one is the best 5 stars
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  DVD: 14-Oct-2008


  DVD: 14-Oct-2008

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