Friday, October 19, 2007

London Film Festival Day 3 - 4 MONTHS 3 MONTHS 2 DAYS/4 LUNI, 3 SAPTAMANI SI 2 ZILE

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS is the first film since Michael Haneke's CACHE to leave me utterly breathless and in awe. Every aspect of the film speaks to its quality, integrity and completeness of vision. It is a deserving winner of the Palme d'Or. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu and lead actress Anamaria Marinca deserve special recognition for producing out-standing cinema.

The set-up of the movie is simple. It is 1987 in Communist Romania. We follow a university student called Otilia (Marinca) for a day. In the morning she runs errands - cadging fags and soap on the black market and rather more mysteriously, haggling for a hotel room for the night. It transpires that this straight-forward, no-nonsense girl is helping her irritatingly flaky best friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get an illegal abortion from the sinister Dr Bebe (Vlad Ivanov). At the same time, she has to contend with the petty social demands of her boyfriend Adi. The cast is good throughout but Marinca gives a particularly nuanced, subtle performance.

Mungiu has crafted a devestatingly affecting script. The characters are heart-breakingly believable as is the situation Otilia finds herself in. Gabita clings on to her like a parasite, and even though Otilia approaches articulating her frustration, she is too decent to abandon her, at any price. The process of an illegal abortion is displayed with clarity but discretion until one brutal and lingering shock that leaves us in no doubt of the gravity of the operation. Despite, or perhaps because of, its un-blinking vision, the film resists easy judgements. This movie is neither pro nor anti, to my mind. Rather, it is a plea for understanding on all sides. Its equivocal stance is clear from the ambiguity of the final shot.

Mungiu's style is deliberate and static, with characters exposed to the viewer in unflinching takes. Sometimes we are looking at sordid empty rooms as the action takes place around a corner. Usually, we look at a character, typically hiding their emotions. A particularly well-done scene shows Otilia attending her boyfriend's family celebration. The frame is crowded with jovial guests talking nonsense, happily ignoring the brooding girl placed dead centre of the screen. Surprisingly, their petty concerns seem to be the same as any contemporary British dinner party - grade inflation, pampered students, office politics. Later, the boyfriend's mother will interrupt the two lovers in a bedroom as they discuss what would happen if Otilia were pregnant. The mother's actions are pure comedy gold and absolutely translatable to contemporary family life. And that's the strength of this film. Contemporary western audiences will be able to relate to those relationships even if the situation is hopefully rare.

4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS 2 DAYS played Cannes 2007 where it won the Palme D'Or and London 2007. It was released in Italy, France, Belgium and Greece in summer 2007 and opens in Argentina, Finland and Germany in November. It opens in the UK on January 11th and in Turkey on January 18th and in the US on January 25th 2008.

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