Romania, 1987: It's two years before the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship, and some 20 years after he had outlawed abortion — not from any moral objection, but in order to increase the country's birth rate and work force. But it's an Iron Curtain country, with a thriving black market in pretty much everything, and now two young women seek to terminate a pregnancy.
Spacy Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu) relies on her shrewder, more sensible friend Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) to make hotel arrangements, borrow the necessary cash, and fetch the symbolically named Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) to perform the abortion. Gabi is more pregnant than she's let on — she'd said two months, rather than the title's more accurate reckoning — which renders everything far more dangerous and increases the legal penalties.
With that in mind, Bebe demands more money, and the fact that the women don't have it doesn't keep him from exacting additional payment. When the deed is done and the piper paid, Otilia must swallow her fury and disgust and go to a prearranged dinner with her boyfriend's family. In her guarded opacity there, director Cristian Mungiu finds a perfect parallel for the ways Ceausescu's subjects camouflaged their wretchedness and anger — and this rivetingly brutal film expands from anguished domestic drama to portrait of a people.
hide captionCristian Mungiu's film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d'Or prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
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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.