Film Review: Four Months, Three Weeks…

(with permission of the author)

 This is the story of an abortion, Romanian style.  A major focus is on the dependent relationship of two young college female students and the ultimate consequences for both.  The film also speaks to the universal clash between middle class and working class mindsets.  The Romanian state’s legal prohibition of abortion provides both backdrop and impulse to the film’s evolution. 

 As to the abortion: Two young women in their early twenties, students at a university are roommates.  One (Gabita) appears devoid of the will to think and act: she becomes pregnant, is close to five months into it (hence the film’s title), and, from an unreliable source receives and follows through on a recommendation for an abortionist.  The abortion must be done in secret:  If discovered, severe prison sentencing will result for all involved.  In her first telephone contact with the abortionist, Gabrita claims that she is only two months pregnant.  The lie is to induce the abortionist to take her case; at the same time endangering her life. Even when pressed she cannot determine within months the approximate date of conception. Her general irresponsibility could lead to the possible incarceration of everyone involved in the abortion.

 The above noted egregious personal behavior represents only a modest catalog of her irresponsibleness. Gabrita is a character we all have met at least once in life, one bereft of any life-compass, fearful of confronting awkward situations, and forsaking meetings requiring consequential, on-the-spot decision-making. Such personalities are in hourly need of instruction for avoiding the next misstep to disaster. Taken by itself, such a life is, to put it uncharitably, senselessly problematic. However it is in her dependency relations with others, in particular case her roommate, Otilia, that eruptive events can and do follow.

 Otilia is the single hero in this film.  She alone possesses clear and consistent values, and the capacity to act resolutely with courage and intelligence.  One must assume that the source of these qualities, especially basic common sense, stem in part from her working class upbringing and identity.  She is in school for a technical education preparatory for factory work on graduation, possibly managerial. Her discipline and fearlessness reflect growing up in a household where her father has, and mother has had a military career.  Repeatedly, Otilia must resolve problems caused by Gabrita’s negligence and miscalculations.  Her intercessions often lead to serious personal physical and emotional risk.

 Otilia has a middle class boyfriend, Adi, and the tensions in their relationship mirror wider societal conflicts. This becomes acutely transparent at a birthday dinner for Adi’s mother.  The guests include his father’s colleagues and their wives from a local scientific institute. Beyond endless mind-numbing prattle, these middle class snobs cannot restrain strutting their prejudices and peevish resentments: against the younger generation generally, and specifically against Otilia for her career aspirations and her parents’ lower class status.  In a confrontation with Adi following the dinner, she accuses him of holding and voicing the same abhorrent views expressed by his parents’ friends.  In the most damning indictment of his values, she makes it clear that she does not consider him a reliable partner, and if she were in desperate need, say of an abortion, she would not count on him.  In such circumstances, she forcefully asserts her intention to rely on her own resources.

 The abortionist is an interesting, if repulsive figure.  He is an efficient and cold-hearted realist.  He is a pervert.  The dreadful climate fostered by the illegality of abortions compels desperate women to throw themselves on the mercy and skills of such individuals. 

 I thought the film was characteristically European, and one Hollywood could not produce.  For the young Romanian women in Four months…there is no deep moralizing or hand wringing about the pros and cons of aborting a fetus.  It is a practical decision made by real people in difficult circumstances.  The pregnancy is unwanted because a career is gone, the father would probably disappear, and the burdens of child rearing could reach unbearably difficult levels.  It is not that women in similar circumstances in the US do not face the same issues, and respond to them in the same way. They do, but their lives and decisions cannot appear in our films.  Instead, we confront the real dilemmas of abortion in avoidance mode.  Witness the film Juno suffused with Panglossian middle class virtue, a made-in-heaven Hollywood ending, and humor almost absurd in its divorce from the profound logistical and emotional difficulties associated with the act in modern day America.  To my mind, its box office success was more a tribute to the film’s taboo subject matter, and not as a portrayal of life’s circumstances.

 The acting all around was superb, as was the direction and camera work.  Most striking for me in this regard was the slow evolution of scenes and extended pauses.  The way the young women dressed, especially Otilia, reminded me more of Paris than New York.

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Ralph Schiller 01-07-2008

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