Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Romanian Cinema: 4 M, 3W, 2D: a bleak "docudrama"

I don’t recall that “4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile” (Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, IFC, dir. wr. Christian Mungui, no rating but would be R) was screened in DC’s international festival last Spring, as the emphasis then was France, Cuba, and India. In fact, I don’t recall many films directly from Romania. The language has the rhythm of Italian, but it’s noticeable: the viewer needs the subtitles (it’s gotten so that French and Castilian Spanish are pretty easy these days), and the subtitles had some spelling and grammar errors. Many more Romanian words seem different (non cognates to recognizable English synonyms) than in other Romance languages.

To say the least, this film has a very different effect from other well known films about abortion (“Vera Drake” (UK) “Swing Vote” (USA)). Politically, it presents an odd concept. The film gathers a strange effect. Technically, it’s stunning and professional, in 2.35:1, and it surrounds us with the bleakness of Communist Rumania just before the fall of Nicolae Ceauşescu,. You want to go outdoors more, from the bleakness of the Commie flats and hotels, but then you just see more flats and plain trams. It is overcast and cold all the time. None of the landmarks of Bucharest show.

Most people know the story by now. Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) helps her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get what amounts to a back alley abortion (in a hotel, though), the kind that the 50s show “The DA’s Man” used to dramatize. The movie walks us through the grim underground process in a kind of docudrama fashion. The “doctor” gets pretty stern (the title of the film refers to her calculating the age of the unborn and the legal consequences), and in the middle of the film it is shown pretty graphically. The procedure is a bit brutal, and without anesthesia it must hurt. We even see the fetus once, later, and it does make for a pro-life argument. Afterward, Gabita’s life may hang in the balance, while Otilia must hide the corpse and deal with her own boyfriend and circumstances. Politically, Communist Romania was every bit as anti-abortion as today’s pro-life movement here.

The film leaves one dangling. Other viewers talk about the loose ends with the knife, and the missing ID card, and that Otilia is prepped for revenge. I suppose so, and (as I indicated in the gay film “Bugcrush” that I reviewed a couple posts back) I would have liked to see more of an “end.”

There is opportunity here for followup in another area: the incredible number of deprived orphans who lived in post-Communist Romania, were neglected and were adopted from abroad, by parents ready to deal with special needs children.

There is little music, except for a Romanian pop song during the closing credits.

Update: Feb. 9, 2008

The February 8 ABC "Nightline" mentioned Romanian orphans (after the fall of Communism) in conjunction with possible brain damage done to children left crying for long intervals, by the hormone cortisol. The report was "The Quest for Rest: Should Babies Co-Sleep or Cry It Out?: Controvery Over How Parents Can Win the Bedtime Battle Continues," by Bill Weir and Ted Gerstein, link here. The report promoted "attachment parenting" and "the Family Bed," was well as "the Ferber Method."

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