In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu offers an unsparing view of life under Communist Totalitarianism in 1980's Romania. Under the oppressive rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, even cigarettes and gum require black market finagling. Appliances are often shared and contraception is virtually unavailable.
In an effort to populate the country, the pill and IUD are illegal, and other forms of birth control exceedingly scarce. In 1966 abortion, except under relatively rare conditions, became punishable by imprisonment for both the patient and the doctor and the potential revocation of the doctor's medical license. Employers mandated gynecological exams and were required to report pregnancies to the state, whereupon women were monitored by the state until delivery.
It is a reality that some Americans would consider appealing. (Well, maybe not about the appliances and gum...) These Americans should see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
The reality of the situation in Romania, in what has been termed the Golden Age of the Breeding Machine, is that for the first several years birth rates in Romania increased. After that they slowly returned to pre-1966 levels. In concordance, maternal death rates steadily rose.
But don't expect to find politics in 4 Months, or even any historical context. The film is shot without music and often in long, stationary shots where characters move in and out of frame. It provides little context and little exposition.The film opens simply, as two friends, in mid-conversation, prepare themselves for a frightening and dangerous night where, we eventually discover, one will help the other procure an illegal abortion.
Although based on the experiences of two real women, this film makes no judgments. It's not pro-life and it's not pro-choice. It steps back and lets a human story tell itself, as though we were given a peep through a keyhole back in time to another reality were two girls, desperate, determined, and terrified, seem a lot like girls I've known.
Mungiu insists it's not a film about abortion, but rather totalitarianism. It does illuminate a world were personal choices are controlled by the state and reveals the oppression and tragedy that can result. Would the outcome be so different in the United States if unmarried youth were restricted knowledge of and access to birth control, and abortion illegal?
We are not so far from this as we might think. Consider the billions of dollars spent on abstinence-only programs, the appointees of President Bush in the Office of Family Planning, global aid for HIV/AIDS restricted by mandated abstinence programs, and the fact that Roe v Wade is an issue in the Presidential campaigning of 2008...
But aside from social or political implications, everyone should see this film for the mastery of the film itself. It's approach to the art of film making borders on revolutionary and Mungui's lack of sentimentality is (in my view) heroic. We've had enough heart-warming fantasy-comedies about unexpected pregnancy. If abortion were to become illegal and comprehensive sex-ed neglected, we wouldn't have a country full of Juno's. We'd have a country full of unintended pregnancies, and the tragic (anti)heroines of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days...