Movies We Like
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Watching my first Romanian film called for a background of Romanian history, which I will impose on you shortly. It is very important, especially when watching foreign films, to have a sense of context within history. If you know that there will be a controversial or historical aspect breached within the film, I suggest you find out what constituted it. This will not only enrich your experience (not to mention free education), but it will allow you to not ask intellectual questions that are brought up while watching the movie. In short, you'll be able to suspend disbelief better.
According to my research - which is not entirely reliable because it's solely Internet based - Romania's pro-life policies became radical while the communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was president. In efforts to raise Romania's low birthrate, several extreme measures were put into effect. The legal age for a woman to marry was lowered to 15. Men and women, regardless of whether they were single or married, were taxed between 10-20% of their income if they remained childless after they were in their mid-20s. Married couples were questioned about their sex life if they had not had children yet, and those with children received a "family allowance" from the government for each child. Contraceptives were no longer manufactured or imported, and of course abortion became illegal, with only a few rare cases allowed. Miscarriages were investigated, and illegal abortions led to a prison sentence, both for the expecting mother and the doctor or person performing it.
So, you have the background of the movie, which is set in the late '80s. We find two college roommates, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), who are dealing with a bit of a crisis. Otilia is our protagonist, and rightfully so. She has eyes that could cut across a room and make anyone sorry for staring. Gabita is our damsel in distress—a mousy, whimpering little thing who is in turmoil and for whom you feel pity, and perhaps anger. You see, Gabita is the girl who needs an abortion, and based off the context, I don't blame her. Humans are humans, and when sexually active with no means of contraceptives, what else could you expect—provided you aren't hung up about premarital sex. But it is not her condition that makes you impatient with her, but her extremely passive and spacey disposition. Though Otilia is not the one who is expecting, she is the one taking the most action in getting the situation resolved. Together, but mostly on the part of Otilia, they gather 3,000 lei in the hopes that this will be enough for the procedure and rent a hotel for privacy. Though the two would have been more comfortable with a woman providing the abortion, they don't know of any who would provide one past the first term. A man is recommended to them who will do late abortions and, they assume, will also be more affordable.
The trouble is that Gabita has lied to the man about every bit of information that was requested of her. She told him that she was two months along (the name of the film suggests otherwise), which he disproves by the simple touch of her stomach. The man turns hostile, now aware of their desperation and set on twisting it for his own benefit. For a moment, both are unsure if they will ever reach their goal. Once again, it is up to Otilia to do the unthinkable for her friend and to set things into action. The scenes following this are the hardest to watch, at least for me. Through spells of degradation and pain, the two work hard to accomplish their goal. Otilia's involvement with the experience seems more personal, because unlike Gabita, she is in a committed relationship and has an active sex life with her boyfriend Adi (Alexandru Potocean). She confesses to him that the reason she has been aggravated and uneasy the last 24 hours is because she is helping Gabita with an abortion. For her, a new devastation is brought to the surface. By offering herself to Gabita and experiencing the horrors of the situation they're in, she begins to ask questions about her own relationship. She understands that she and her boyfriend could soon be in a similar situation, and when he offers to marry her if she were to get pregnant, she openly confesses that she would not want to give up her freedom and be his wife. Thus, her understanding of love is changed by Gabita's struggle. Once the struggle is over, Otilia will still suffer, while the indifferent and almost unaffected Gabita will float through life in the sheepish manner she started with. For her, it is as if nothing was learned or lost.
While I do wish that more of Romania's history was evident in the film, it was not needed for me to have a powerful reaction from the story. Each character, even those who are on the screen for a few minutes, was remarkably genuine and well-acted. The actions that the camera follows are mainly Otilia's, and I like the direction and cinematography. The landscapes were hollow and dark, but not stylized—it was obviously shot in places where this story could unfold naturally. Many of the shots are exterior, through dark alleys and deserted streets, and provide enough despair and helplessness to be effective without any sort of soundtrack or cues. Despite the subject matter, I enjoyed this film on many levels and recommend it anyone, especially if, like me, you've never seen a film from Romania.