Abortion takes center stage in new film
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Cristian Mungiu, a filmmaker from Romania, says that when making a movie, he begins with a personal experience, then expands in it with the hopes that his story “makes you think about something.” Viewers will undoubtedly refer to Mungiu’s new film, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” as a movie about abortion, and it is. The film opens with a college student preparing to leave her dorm to have an abortion, and the storyline rarely strays from her pursuit of the procedure. The bulk of the film takes place in the hotel room where the abortion is performed; the title refers to the duration of her pregnancy.
Still, abortion is not the “something” that Mungiu wants audiences to contemplate. “4 Months,” which earned the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, is starkly neutral on the politics of the subject; anyone who comes away thinking Mungiu has made a statement on the morality of abortion will have pasted their own views onto the film. “4 Months” is more illuminating on the subjects of friendship, economics and moral compromises. Ultimately, however, the thing that Mungiu most wants audiences to train their attention on are the circumstances that surround the abortion: Romania in 1987, under Communist rule.
“It recreates the atmosphere in which we lived, the bleakness we had to overcome and the adversity of the period,” said the 39-year-old Mungiu, a former journalist and university professor. That atmosphere started with the totalitarian president Nicolae Ceausescu, but the film emphasizes the repressive fallout from Communism that invaded the psyches of regular people. “There was an adversity that came not from the authorities. People were not forced to believe like this, but there was a pressure on them.”
Among the official policies of the state before Communism ended, in 1989, was the criminalization of abortion, as well as all contraceptives. Romanian officialdom, however, never figures into the movie.
Instead, Mungiu tells the story, with a tight focus and a rough realism, of two roommates, the pregnant Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca). Otilia leads Gabita through the process ” she takes her to a hotel room, cobbles together the money, deals with the brusque man, Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), who performs the abortion with indifferent efficiency.
The central character turns out to be not Gabita, but Otilia, who witnesses what her roommate goes through and also makes the greatest sacrifices for the operation. Otilia seems not to be even particularly fond of Gabita, but the film depicts them as bound to one another in a kind of relationship that Mungiu says was characteristic of the era.
“You have to relate to the situation,” he said by phone. “There was a special kind of bond between boys or girls who were put together in a school for four to six years. You became closer to this person than a brother or a sister. You share everything in your lives.”
Given that relationship, Otilia is willing to make extreme compromises for Gabita’s benefit. Risking her relationship with her boyfriend is the least of what she endures. Mungiu says it is the atmosphere that makes Otilia relatively numb to her own actions.
“From the perspective of someone living then, in that period ” we were not experiencing that period thinking it was going to come to an end,” he said. We were much more willing to compromise, because we didn’t think Communism was ever going to end.”
In such a foul setting, even a character like the abortionist Bebe can be seen with some sympathy. His coldness and greed are products of the same culture that afflict the young women.
“The system was screwing him up badly,” said Mungiu. “And people who are treated badly turn out to treat people badly. I wanted to make his character a complex one, a product of his society.”
One last thing Mungiu wants the audience to come away with is a sense of progress. While he was living through the ’80s, he never imagined Communism would collapse. But it did, and the repression lifted.
“This film was an opportunity for people who forget about the progress,” said Mungiu. “Things change little by little, and you forget that it’s changing. This is a reminder that we are a developing country, a very free country, with a working economy. A normal place where people have moved on, to be part of Europe not only on paper, but really.
“It’s hard to make such changes in such a short time. It’s only 18 years since the end of Communism.”
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