4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days
In the wake of Juno, the evidently undeserving ‘underdog’ nominee for this year’s Best Picture, there is a little Romanian film that curiously didn’t even make it past the preliminary nominees for Best Foreign Picture. However, its important to point out that 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days did not go completely unnoticed. It took the Palme D’Or at last year’s Cannes Festival, Best Picture and Director at the European Film Awards and received critical acclaim in Toronto and Vancouver. But these ceremonial facts don’t say anything new about the differences between the American and European markets that most anyone hasn’t taken into account if not capitalized upon. But going beyond awards, there is something remarkable in the language used in the film that was created in and of a country whose film industry is still in its extremely formative years.
While both the filmmaker and nearly every piece of press did not hesitant to reveal the major plot point around which the film builds its themes, its important to take into consideration a relatively uninformed American’s perspective upon entering the film. From the exposition and well into the rising action, the filmmakers refuse to give any hint or foreshadow into the concrete events which will unfold until its too late and the audience immediately realizes its too late to prepare themselves. The film successfully maintains its suspense and refuses to coddle the audience or provide consultative hints so that the viewer can feel rewarded or empowered when they guess the outcome. For empowerment couldn’t be a feeling more opposite to the film’s theme and the filmmaker lets the audience see this as well as feel it through the process.
While one might observe the binary of Otillia’s action based character to Gabita’s thought based, the former should not be irresponsibly seen as empowered in the typical sense. Otillia’s slight glances at the camera (namely at the end) suggest a relationship she wants to encourage between the actors and the viewers. What do you say to this atrocity? Does it need to be like this? And is it even possible to change the circumstances? These questions are only the beginning of what Cristian Mungiu, the writer and director, might be proposing. Returning to the Gabita’s antithesis to Otillia, she ineffectively, and perhaps reproachfully, attempts to ignore her problem by holding a menu in front the reminding dish served to her. This action serves as an extension of her methods to avoid the problem caused through giving into fear. The basic idea of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ contrasts with Otillia’s confrontational turn to the audience.
The director’s choice to maintain the longest shots possible becomes most evident during a dinner sequence that Otillia has been forced into by her significant other. The dinner becomes an aleatoric symphony of disembodied hands mingling with assortments of silverware, glassware and food dishes. A dark bottle of liquor centers the focus in a situation where the directors know he won’t be able the completely control the tempo and variety of hand-motion and prop-usage. Cristian strikes a balance between the ability to control a small aesthetical element and leave the rest to chance. But in contrast to the basic connotations of utilizing aesthetical “chance,” the sequence utilizes the static and unblinking camera to personify the restricted mentality and emotion that Otillia must be feeling within the her given dinner situation, within her situation as an accomplice and could even extend as far as to be commenting on her class and gender. Respectively, this camera choice allows the periphery characters large amounts of freedom in their form and hence aids their use as thematic extensions in relation to Otilla’s.
Rather than tying up loose ends in the falling action as many films tend to do, after the climax 4 Months does quite the opposite. The characters and hence the spectators are refused the chance to relax or reach a moment of clarity. Any glimmer of reflection is negated by the aggressive use of swampy shadows and chiaroscuro. Otillia roams through poorly lit back alley’s just as she mentally wades through her conscious that has been muddled by a difficult situation gone horribly wrong. Some might see the film as an “issue piece” but through this complacency in Otillia and her subsequent discourse with Gabita, Cristian avoids formulating an explicit opinion on what happens within the plot, but rather thinks his film “goes beyond that” as he stated at the Cannes Festival.
And indeed it isn’t an issue piece but a film about human relationships. This is more than evident in the long takes that let the actors develop a sometimes excruciatingly realistic relationship; two lovers silently wait in tears for an elevator letting them comment on the forced drama, ticket enforcement slightly scowls at Otillia’s attempt to outwit public transportation, a group of women talking around each other and indirectly about another’s comment in order to ignore their need to barter for essentials. These moments aren’t what “make” the film but rather what peppers it in a refreshingly non-cosmetic fashion that derives much from the likes of the Maysles, Von Triers, Cassavetes and other filmmakers who strive for that elusive “real.”
By no means is the film “fun” or “entertaining” in the standard sense and this is exactly the reason why it won’t be seen by more than 400,000 Americans and would likewise be impossible to make in the United States. But I’d rather take this last moment not to simply critique the American market or mind-set, for its more interesting to look at how the films of a country who has allegedly “thrived” on freedom for a countless number of years differ from the films of a country who’s people have been granted freedom only 20 years ago. Yes its only natural that a newly liberated country is going to take themselves a lot more seriously, but do we really need to be singing along to the Moldy Peaches over a glib and hip glance at teenage pregnancy in order to feel like we’re watching something relevant?
Regency Rancho Niguel 1:15pm | 4:15 | 7:15 | 9:45
Art Theatre 7:00pm | 9:10
Laemmle Sunset 5 1:20pm | 4:10 | 7:00 | 9:50