“Once we start, there’s no turning back.”
Unrated. In Theaters. Written and Directed by Cristian Mungiu. Starring Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu and Vlad Ivanov.
When a story, whether it is a film, a novel or even a television series is about something IMPORTANT, people tend to give it extra credit — I am guilty of this as well, especially when it comes to war stories — I mean, my favorite novel is All Quiet on the Western Front. This phenomenon makes sense — a good story challenges the way we think and the way we perceive the world, or it exposes us to people, places and events we otherwise would never see or think about. This is why comedies never win Oscars and why the novels considered to be the greatest of all-time often deal with bleak and depressing subjects.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film about something IMPORTANT — abortion — set in a time and place American audiences have no experience with — 1980s Romania, still under Communist rule, and I think it has received way too much hype simply because it is tackling an IMPORTANT issue. Though it was the winner of the Palme D’Or at Cannes and many critics have been swooning over it, it just isn’t a good or engaging movie. It’s too bad, because the subject material has all the elements of what could have been a strong and powerful film but it just doesn’t ever add up to anything.
The story takes place in one day, where Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) is desperately trying to help her friend Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) get an abortion, no easy task in a society where abortion is illegal and carries stiff penalties. They run into some obstacles and have to deal with a difficult doctor (Vlad Ivanov) who knows he carries all the leverage in the situation and takes advantage.
The writer/director Cristian Mungiu has said in interviews that he came up with the story and wrote down the synopsis in 10 minutes. It shows. The film is unfocused, with a lot of throwaway scenes and moments that never get addressed or expanded upon and that ultimately bring nothing to the table. They mention Gabita’s dad and never show him or address it; there is a scene with the doctor visiting his mother that doesn’t go anywhere — there are other examples that are spoilers, but the storytelling is just sloppy. If you stripped out all the extraneous elements, you’d be left with a story that could have been told in about 45 minutes.
The direction has been praised, but I just don’t see it — scenes last far too long and with such a harrowing story there should have been more tense moments (judging by the trailer, you would think it was a thriller — it is most definitely NOT) but it was pretty boring throughout. Marinca redeems some of the problems with the film — she gives a really strong performance and develops her character further than how she was written. Vasiliu is really one-note and part of that is that her character is not really sketched out very well, which is a problem because we’re supposed to believe that Otilia is going to these great lengths to help her friend but her friend is completely unsympathetic and worthless. Ivanov anchors by far the best scene in the film.
The trouble is, other than that scene and the lead-up, there isn’t much else worthwhile going on in the movie. Just as an indication, I usually am not bored by movies, but I actually found myself checking my cell phone to see how much time was left. I’m sure there is a strong film to be made of this subject material, but 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not it.