Academy Awards Skirt Abortion Movie

The Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has been one of the best-reviewed foreign films of the year. But it centers on a story of abortion, and Village Voice critic J Hoberman says that might explain why it didn't get an Oscar nomination.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALISON STEWART, host:

The Romanian film, "4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days" won universal acclaim when it played at film festivals last year. The director's movie is an unflinching look at a woman trying to procure an illegal abortion in Communist Romania in 1987. It was awarded the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and even though it wasn't released in this country, it made it into the top five movies of '07 in the Village Voice Film Critics Poll, as of all the films reviewed last year, not just foreign movies. But one thing it won't win is an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

In fact, it didn't even make the shortlist of films eligible to be nominated. The snub outraged a lot of critics, but Jim Hoberman, film critic at the Village Voice says "4 Months" is so far away from the sensibilities of most American movies that deal with the topic of unwanted pregnancy, perhaps the surprise is well, maybe naive.

And Jim joins us now. Good morning.

Mr. JIM HOBERMAN (Film critic, Village Voice): Good morning.

STEWART: So let's just talk about the merits of this movie - we'll get to the politics in a minute. I've seen the trailer. And when I saw the trailer, it looked like a horror film to me.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Well, it's certainly, a kind of thriller. I mean, it's a very, very tensed movie. And yes, I think that there are some horrifying moments, but it's grounded in a very naturalistic situation and presentation.

STEWART: Does the movie itself have a political angle?

Mr. HOBERMAN: Yeah. It's possible to read it, I think, as a movie about living in a police state or living with political terror. But really, it's also very specific. And you know, the terror is also biological. The fact that the protagonist is trapped and so is her friend in this situation by the unwanted pregnancy and what they have to do to secure an abortion.

STEWART: Now, there are have been three other movies this year about unwanted pregnancy: "Waitress," "Knocked Up" and "Juno." Let's listen to a scene from the film "Knocked Up." Its main female character is pregnant, is telling the slacker father of her unborn baby, Ben, that she's not going to have what one of his friends insensitively referred to as "rhymes with shmabortion."

Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie, "Knocked Up")

Ms. KATHERINE HEIGL (Actress): (As Alison Scott) I've decided to keep the baby. I'm keeping it.

Mr. SETH ROGEN (Actor): (As Ben Stone) Oh.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison Scott) Yes. So that's what's happening with that.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) Good, that's good. That's what I was hoping you'd do. So awesome.

Ms. HEIGL: (As Alison Scott) Yeah, yeah. It is good.

Mr. ROGEN: (As Ben Stone) Okay. I know we didn't plan this and, you know, neither of us really thought it was going to happen, but life is like that. You know, you can't plan for it. And even if we did plan, life doesn't care about your plans necessarily and you just kind of have to go with the flow. And you know, I know my job is to just support you in whatever it is you want to do, and I'm in, you know. So whatever you want to do, I'm going to do, you know? It's - I'm on board. Yehey.

STEWART: Now, Jim, I know you have an issue with these Hollywoodificiation of this issue of unwanted pregnancy.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Yeah, well, I think that, first of all, it's important to note that all three of these movies are comedies…

STEWART: Right.

Mr. HOBERMAN: …that you mentioned, and that's fine. I mean, I don't have a problem with that. But in all three of them, the joke is the female protagonist's unwanted pregnancy. It's kind of a cosmic joke that's played on her. And what's striking to me is that she - in each of these movies, she literally has no choice. She has no choice. I mean, if for example, the protagonist of "Knocked Up" was - had religious reasons for not wanting to have or even ethical reasons for not wanting to have an abortion, that would be one thing. But it would be a different movie…

STEWART: Right.

Mr. HOBERMAN: …as I see in that case. Even if "Juno" had some crazy reason that she wants to shock the neighbors, or you know, had a scam to fund her all-rock band, or you know, that too would give that character a certain amount of agency. And I think that in these movies they don't have that.

STEWART: Well, let's listen to a clip from the movie "Juno," which, for people who don't know, is about a girl who loses her virginity and gets pregnant and she's sort of a very sassy, smart girl who thinks she can kind of be sassy and be smart throughout this pregnancy but she has a whole bunch of unexpected emotions during the nine months.

This scene, Juno was talking to the married couple that's planning to adopt her child.

(Soundbite of movie, "Juno")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actress): (As Juno) No, no, no, no. You don't think that I'm going to flake out on you?

Ms. JENNIFER GARNER (Actress): (As Vanessa Loring) No, I don't, Juno. We went through a situation before where it didn't work out.

Mr. JASON BATEMAN (Actor): (As Mark Loring) Yeah. Cold feet.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Oh. Should have gone to China, you know, because I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those T-shirt guns, and they shoot them out at sporting events.

Ms. GARNER: (As Vanessa Loring) Your parents are probably wondering where you are.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno) Oh, no. I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans can I get into? And I should probably bounce.

TOURE: Jim, isn't it artistically and politically impossible to make a fun American movie where a woman gets an abortion?

Mr. HOBERMAN: A fun American movie? Maybe, I mean, I don't know. I mean, certainly, there was an American movie about a nuclear war that obliterates the world that was a lot of fun, "Dr. Strangelove." So I wouldn't say that it's impossible. I think that it's difficult. But my point isn't that, you know, the women in the three American movies should have gotten abortions. But my point is that they should have had some reason other than the imperative of the script.

STEWART: The plotline. I thought of three - the only one that really - the one that was more realistic was the film "Waitress" because the woman is poor, and she's got really terrible self-esteem and her husband is fairly abusive.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Yes, but even in that case, it's not as if she has the hope that somehow having this baby will improve her terrible marriage. I mean, she just won't do it, and she's the one who really, really doesn't want the child.

STEWART: Yes, she's very clear about it through the whole movie as well.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Yeah, yes. So she's trapped.

STEWART: So in terms of - in a nutshell, so why did "Juno" get an Oscar nod and "Four Months" did not?

Mr. HOBERMAN: Well, I mean, I don't think it's so simple as just…

STEWART: Ah, come on…

Mr. HOBERMAN: …the narrative, but the different areas. I mean, it's crazy. You know, the most of the movies that got the - nominated for Oscars haven't even opened here. I think one of them has shown, you know, in a limited way in New York, the Israeli film. But there are a lot of good foreign films last year that weren't nominated. I mean, "Lady Chatterley's Black Book…"

STEWART: Well, Jim, maybe we can have you back on to talk about some of those films next time.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Okay.

STEWART: That would be great.

Jim Hoberman, a film critic for The Village Voice, thanks for weighing in.

Mr. HOBERMAN: Thank you.

TOURE: This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT on NPR News. I'm Toure.

STEWART: And I'm Alison Stewart. Thank you so much for listening to us.

We'll talk to you real soon.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: