Oppression and Abortion in Mungiu's '4 Months'

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Cristian Mungiu

Cristian Mungiu's film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d'Or prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Frederick Brown/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frederick Brown/Getty Images

In 1966, Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu sought to boost his nation's population by criminalizing abortion, declaring, "The fetus is the property of the entire society... anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity."

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a new film by director Cristian Mungiu, explores the ramifications of Ceausescu's ban two decades later; it's 1987 and two college women negotiate Bucharest's gloomy, paranoid black market in an effort to secure an abortion.

New York Times critic Manohla Dargis calls the film, which won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, "ferocious, unsentimental, often brilliantly directed."

We'll talk to Mungiu about his experiences growing up under a totalitarian regime and his inspiration for 4 Months.

'4 Months' Raises the Iron Curtain on Abortion

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Laura Vasiliu and Anamaria Marinca in '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.' i

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
Laura Vasiliu and Anamaria Marinca in '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.'

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

IFC Films

The word "abortion" puts many people on edge, but director Cristian Mungiu wanted viewers to experience what it was like to try to get one in a country where it was illegal. The result is 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a film that follows two Romanian college women in 1987.

Gabita lies to herself and those around her about her pregnancy, until her friend Otilia comes to understand what's happened and bails her out. The film chronicles the women's struggle to obtain an abortion for Gabita, from their surreptitious efforts to book a hotel room to the procedure itself, and while the images — including a shot of a fetus on a bathroom floor — may be shocking, nothing in 4 Months is overdramatized.

Mungiu won't go into personal details but says his film is based on the experience of someone he knows. He says half a million women died getting illegal abortions during the reign of Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu.

The country he shows is a place of dark hallways and cramped rooms. As the two women pack for their meeting with the abortionist, one scrounges for cotton balls and soap; the other hunts through the echo-y halls of the dorm and the crowded common bathroom for a hair dryer and cigarettes.

Mungiu says he wasn't thinking about issues like the end of Romanian Communism or even abortion when he was making the film; rather, his approach was dictated by the story, not a message.

"I try to just choose the scenes which are going to be allowed in the film, considering just one thing," he says. "Would this reasonably have happened, and does it make sense to the story to keep it?"

Despite Mungiu's subject matter and his decidedly uncommercial approach (he uses long, unedited takes throughout the film, with some scenes running 10 minutes without a cut), 4 Months has been one of the most popular attractions at film festivals, winning the top prize at Cannes. General audiences in the U.S. will get a chance to see it as it opens in theaters over the coming months.

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