Monday, October 06, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

I've always had a deep fascination with Communist countries under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. Romania. Poland. Hungary. Bulgaria. Etc. From reading books or watching films from that part of Europe I imagine lots of shades of gray. I imagine a lot of concrete architecture as well. And of course, there's the layers of gloom and paranoia that looms over the populace. Doesn't sound all that thrilling but I've never stopped being drawn to that part of the world no matter how depressing the subject might appear.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is my kind of film. Romania. 1980s. A desperate woman seeks to procure an extremely illegal underground abortion with the help of her friend. The pair begin a gripping quest that not only puts them at risk for harsh Romanian prison time but it could cost them their lives as well.

I loved this relentlessly powerful movie. Directed by Christian Mungiu, the level of claustrophobia is so tense it's hard to watch at times. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is compelling and emotionally exhausting and one of the most harrowing films I've seen recently. Those are good things. Combine those things with the Eastern European setting and I'm completely riveted.

The film works on multiple levels--as social commentary as well as a heart stopping thriller. I felt such an empathy for these women and their plight that I became lost in their disastrous situation. The fact that abuse, prison, bodily harm or death was close at hand at every turn only ratcheted up the anxiousness to a higher level.

I guess a lot of folks would be bothered by the abortion element in the film. Mungiu does not shy away from that aspect as the film has some frank discussion and graphic moments that are pretty sharp and hard to watch. That being said, I didn't find this an "abortion" film (one of those incendiary topics often best not talked about with people who disagree with you) as much as it is a film about freedom. The abortion is just the napalm catalyst to show what it's like to live in a police state like Romania was during this period in its history.

Call me crazy, but even after watching a film like this where there are no freedoms in the face of an all controlling government and living is extremely difficult, I still kind find these places from this era romantic and captivating. I wish I could have visited (by the time I made it to Hungary/ Poland etc. in 1995, the Westernization was already flooding their borders in waves) or even lived among its people. I'll just have to make do with bleak, powerful films like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to transfer me to places like this I can only imagine.

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