Saturday, April 26, 2008

4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 days, a film by Cristian Mungiu (2007)

Just the one movie today, and even more sombre than On the Edge of Heaven, more like hell. The movie is set in the Romania of 1987, a time when there was strict surveillance, and a repressive internal security force. This is two years before the Romanian Revolution, so it can be imagined that things were pretty much at rock bottom, in terms of morale and its economy.

Wikiepedia says that Ceau┼čescu's Police State apparatus was "greatly strengthened" at this time. Abortion was a hot button issue in Romania:
Ceau┼čescu had banned it (along with sex education and contraception) in 1966 in order to populate the country. Women were even tested for pregnancy and fined for failing to conceive! "The fetus is the property of the entire society ... "Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity." The only way to get an abortion was to have it illegally and incredibly stealthily. Given that knowledge about human sexuality was a "state secret" and the poor state of the economy, unwanted pregnancy must have been the norm and abortion a natural response.

I wish I'd known all this before seeing today's movie, as it would have given a context and helped me get the deadened responses of its two main characters, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) and Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu). They're both students, sharing a dorm.
Gabi is pregnant (I think the title is a reference to exactly how pregnant she is, although it is not made clear and she certainly doesn't look pregnant) and has made arrangements for a hotel and an abortionist, Mr Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). The movie starts with the two of them making preparations for being away for a couple of days - as one of them wryly comments, they could be going on holiday. It takes a while for the film to reveal just why the two of them are checking into a hotel. Of course, all has to be done under great secrecy, so it is understandable why Bebe is concerned when it is not Gabi but Otilia who meets him and when his nominated hotel is not the one they've checked into. The fear of him not doing the job if he knew the truth makes it understandable that Gabi has not told him how pregnant she is (and might be the explanation of why she wouldn't meet him herself). I think it probably explains why Gabi has not told Otilia all the details as well.

Of course, it doesn't take Bebe long to find the truth out as soon as he starts examining her: Gabi's situation has given him enormous power over her, which he is not too scrupulous to use.
I was pleased that after this sordid bit of business, he did seem to adopt a professional manner and ensured that what he had been "paid" for was done.

The thing that disturbed me the most about the movie was the near complete lack of emotional responses of Otilia and Gabi: they never smile or laugh, which is understandable, but they never show any anger either, or give each other a hug. Having to get the abortion and to pay the price that Bebe demands seems to be just what they have to do - there's an interesting contrast with the other characters we see in the movie. Otilia's boyfriend's family and various other people in the hotel seem to have a good time and to have a punch up when they're angry. Otilia even has Bebe's rather formidable looking flick knife but does nothing with it.

They finish resolving never to talk of these matters again, in near complete stillness:


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