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Monday, February 11, 2008

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days

4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile by Cristian Mungiu

When Walker Art Center film curator Sheryl Mousley talks about Cristian Mungiu's astonishing film, she describes a generation of Romanian filmmakers, born in the late 60s and early 70s who had a very particular experience growing up under Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. To a first generation to come-of-age at the time of the dictators demise and have began to embrace new freedoms while still cautiously aware of the tenuous nature of being a filmmaker in a country devastated by brutal dictatorship.

Another brilliant Romanian director from this new generation of filmmakers was Cristian Nemescu who made the 2007 Cannes Un Certain Regard award winning California Dreamin' (Endless). Nemescu died tragically when his car was struck by a speeding Landrover in Bucharest that had run a red light, cutting short a career that would certainly have made a huge contribution to cinema.

While there is something truly refreshing in seeing this new generation of Romanian filmmakers, there is also a retro quality to their films. Mungiu said it himself that because he was limited in the kinds of films he could see, his influences in cinema came from a period before our present day movies, pre-millennium cinematic languages and tradition of cinema verite as well as the French New Wave.

4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days all takes place inside one 24 hour period and the camera follows closely our lead character Otilia played pitch perfect by an incredible Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca who now lives in London. Mungiu's choice to follow Otilia, as opposed to the more obvious, Gabriela whose plight has dramatic arc of the story is brilliant.

Otilia sets off out in the morning on the clandestine mission to help her student roomate Gabita as she is affectionately called, obtain an illegal abortion. There are many scenes in this film where the camera literally follows, almost in real time, Otilia's march through the minefield she is trying to navigate. The filmmakers are careful not to take sides, instead to tell the story without moral or political proselytizing.

Probably the most upsetting but rich aspect of the story is that Otilia puts it all on the line for Gabita. She holds back absolutely nothing in her aid to her friend. There is something deeply abiding in Otilia's commitment to Gabita and yet this duty and protection is not reciprocated and, in fact, abrogated in return.

I have named this film one of the best films of 2007 and far and away better than JUNO or most the the heralded award winning films of the year. As we left the cinema, however, as brilliant as this film is, it cannot and will not fair well with the Academy Awards, Golden Globes or even BAFTA awards. 4 / 3 / 2 is far too stark, too real, too intelligent, and too bracing to ever fall into the commercial morass these awards bring out.

But that's okay, we can live with the knowledge that the Oscar and Globes and all the rest are not the judges of the realm or the indicator of greatness.

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