The title is far scarier and problematic than it suggests, and like most films of its nature the people who need to see it won’t. Let me write it again (to get it out of my system)… 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 day is a film by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, and it’s gnawing away at me. Sometimes a person has to write to get it out of their system, this is one such time. I walked into the movie theatre this evening wanting to experience something different and I got my wish bestowed upon me times three. All that I knew of the film was the title from a few best of year lists, and the fact that its now up for a Golden Globe and will more than likely be up for an Oscar.
Now the question is as it always is, how do I unfold the story to you without ruining the experience in the way I experienced it? So I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story because the psychology of the film works better if you don’t know going into it and while the film focuses on one particular event and the aftermath of it it’s not what the movie is about. This film unfolds like a first person story – one of the only films that I’ve seen work as a first person film – and to feel the confusion and exacerbation that Otilia is going through for her friend Gabriela, it helps not to know what the event is. The first twenty minutes is a daunting task as we play catch up to our two young women preparing for something though for what we’re not sure. This movie is in the details so pay careful attention to the small things Gabriella focuses on and thinks are important. When you understand everything, think back on these things and you’ll end up shaking your head in dismay. She’s a girl in a woman’s body, able to experience things as a woman, but unable to maturely handle the responsibility and repercussions of her actions. Otilia is a pushover but she’s dependable, dependable to a fault. She’s the character we end up following around through the preparations and the reason why we’re kept in the dark is so that our own frustrations are amplified to match her frustrations, but once we do get the idea we’re taken through every emotion she goes through, as she’s going through it. The camera follows Otilia’s shadowy figure through streets allowing us to feel like we’re walking the streets. We jump when she jumps, we get nervous when she does – is that guy following her or is he just going the same way? She is invited to sit around a cramped dinner table while she anxiously awaits the opportunity to excuse herself, and we wait along just as anxiously. This isn’t done with the use of music, or with tricky editing, but letting the camera sit opposite Otilia with everyone crammed into the edges of the frame. There are no cuts. And we wait, and wait, until we hear the phone ring. She wants to get it, but can’t…how can a person answer someone else’s phone? She’s too kind to excuse herself, we would be too kind to excuse ourselves, so we wait it out, nodding our head to the polite chatter and answering questions we’ve been asked a million times before, we have to. Layers upon layers build, and we sit, getting more and more anxious. Waiting for the worst to happen.
And that’s what 4, 3, 2 feeds off of, our imaginations, our fears. That in the situation the girl’s get themselves into, the worst possible thing that could happen, might. When we sit around that dinner table, our minds are somewhere else, seeing the worst. We see the corner of an ambulance and we imagine the worst. Gabriella won’t answer the phone…the absolute worst. This isn’t melodrama or movie reality, but a film in which something real and bad could happen to these girls. The sort of things we hear and read about happening to real girls, outside of movies. And as I inferred the director does this without use of the conventional movie tools. There’s no musical score. Most of the film finds its rhythms in the way characters talk to each other and the deft use of silence and camera work. The edits are few, instead we’re allowed to watch how these people respond to each other without the help of an editor and director (or producer) timing a response for precise emotional effect.
And besides this sad adventure that we follow these girls on because of Gabriella the film is really about the character Otilia and how she is forced to grow up and start seeing things for what they can be if not properly dealt with. And realizing the serious repercussions that bad decisions can have. She’s probably been a pushover for far too long. Though pushover is probably too strong a term. She’s the kind of friend and lover that’s too selfless, too nice – she can’t say no. She doesn’t stand up for herself. Letting people walk over her. Covering for her best friends mistakes. Allowing things to happen to her that shouldn’t for the sake of the people she loves. This film is about her waking up from that, about her becoming stronger. The thing that makes this such an involving story is the fact that these people are presented accurately and clearly. Sure the film takes place in 80’s Romania, but I know girls that are like this today in LA. Girls that are at the stages in their lives where their insecurities play a part in how they respond to people. They wish to be seen as responsible women and they do all the things responsible women do, but they still don’t have the wisdom or sense of responsibility to be straight forward and honest about how they feel and what they want. They think that by telling their boyfriend “no” the boyfriend will leave them, when sometimes that could be the best thing for both involved. They have more fears and insecurities than they do rational actions. This movie details that time in which maybe they’re starting to realize how serious things can be. That lying because it’s easy won’t go over so well in the real world, in fact it might make it extremely worse. That when you make certain decisions in one relationship it might be devastating to another relationship when everything is uncertain on a day to day basis. It’s that transition from post High School to Post College mentality. This is how the real world can be and it’s an incredibly scary transition to go through it with these girls who are learning it the hard way. At times a disturbing one, one that requires a strong psychological physique from the audience.
At times the film is shot and constructed like a psychological horror film playing with shadows and camera work to stimulate our imagination the way a horror film might, not unlike Rosemary’s Baby and only here it isn’t the devil, but the worst kind of horrors that people have to deal with. We don’t see everything that the girls go through, sometimes the camera waits in the room where the action isn’t taking place. Allowing the worst of it to take place in our heads. And when we’re allowed to see the sad, cold aftermath of their decision we’re filled with a hundred different thoughts and feelings about the subject matter. And the audience learns that irresponsible people will break the law to do what they need to do, so is it worth having laws like this. Seeing the aftermath and knowing these character so well we imagine how it might have happened or how they dealt with it when it did. Or with the things that aren’t said in the final moments of the film how they will deal with it. This movie lives beyond it’s own borders. It lives beyond the frame of the camera more so than any movie I think I’ve seen. It lives beyond the final shot of the film.
The ironic thing is, that if this were an American Produced film in English it probably wouldn’t be up for any awards, and not because it’s undeserving, because it’s probably one of the most deserving films this year, but we don’t always give just rewards to challenging American material, most of the time it isn’t even produced! I guess it’s safer and probably more financially viable to let our brethren filmmakers from other countries deal with subject matters like this. And maybe it’s better that they do when a film as raw, natural and intense as this is the final product. I will be very upset if there aren’t some acting nominations for either of the girls in this film as their performances are what give the movie the life that it has. Anamaria Marinca (Otilia) has a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s current film Youth Without Youth, and Laura Vasiliu (Gabriela) will have a long career ahead of her.