MICHELLE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michelle Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Oscar nominations were announced this week. And one film that did not make the cut is titled, "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days." The Romanian movie stirred considerable buzz last year at Cannes. They won that festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or. There are some speculation among critics that the film was overlooked for an Oscar nomination because of its subject — abortion. "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" takes its title from the length of the pregnancy of one of its characters.

Howie Movshovitz of Colorado Public Radio reports.

HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ: The word abortion puts many people on edge. But Cristian Mungiu wanted viewers to experience what it was like to try to get one in a country where it was illegal. Mungiu focuses on the details. From the surreptitious efforts to book a hotel room for the abortion, to the procedure, to a shot of the fetus on the bathroom floor. While the images may be shocking, nothing is overdramatized. The story just unfolds.

Mr. CRISTIAN MUNGIU (Director, "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days"): I don't think there is anything for anybody to feel offended about. It's just the way the story goes. And it's just that people need to face it with all the details that I knew. And then I can say it's up to them to — I don't know, may their own choices. But things should be seen the way they are.

MOVSHOVITZ: Mungiu won't go into personal details, but he says the 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 Nicolae Ceausescu. The country he shows in "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" is a place of dark hallways and cramped rooms.

French director Bertrand Tavernier, best known for his films, "A Sunday in the Country" and "'Round Midnight," says these images give the Romanian movie tremendous emotional power. He first met Cristian Mungiu in 1995 while he was shooting his World War I drama, "Capitaine Conan," in Romania. Mungiu served as Tavernier's assistant director.

Mr. BERTRAND TAVERNIER (Director, "A Sunday in the Country" and "'Round Midnight"): I find him very devoted, very passionate. And it was one of the real find I made during "Conan."

MOVSHOVITZ: Tavernier says the younger filmmaker gets audiences to feel what the young girls' lives are like in their crowded college dorm right from the opening shot.

Mr. TAVERNIER: It gives you the whole place where the two girls are living, their rooms — what it is to get one cigarette. What you have to deal to negotiate the importance of money. I mean, you get that in one shot.

(Soundbite of movie "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

MOVSHOVITZ: As the two girls pack for their meeting with the abortionist, one scrounges for cotton balls and soap.

(Soundbite of movie "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking in foreign language)

(Soundbite of movie "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days")

MOVSHOVITZ: The other hunts through the echoey halls of the dorm and the crowded common bathroom for a hair dryer and cigarettes.

(Soundbite of movie "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Speaking in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Speaking in foreign language)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Speaking in foreign language)

MOVSHOVITZ: Bertrand Tavernier says they live in a world of obstacles and restrictions.

Mr. TAVERNIER: It's one of the first time that you are physically in an impression of knowing what it is to live in a country which has dictatorship-like Ceausescu. Everything gives you a feeling of the time, of the period. It's a period film. But you're never in the impression of looking at a period film. You have an impression of looking at a contemporary film. And yet, it captures the spirit of the Romania of yesterday. I think it's one of the greatest film I've seen in the last years.

MOVSHOVITZ: When the dictator fell in 1989, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu was 21 and a literature teacher. He didn't make his first full-length film until 2002. He waited another five years before starting "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days." When he was making it, he says he wasn't thinking about issues like the end of Romanian communism or even abortion. He was trying to build a story about two college girls — one who lies to herself and those around her about her pregnancy and a friend who comes to understand what has happened and bails her out. Mungiu says his approach was dictated by the story, not a message.

Mr. MUNGIU: I try to just choose the scenes which are going to be allowed in the film, considering just one thing: Would this reasonably have happened and does it make sense to the story to keep it? And apart from this, I am trying not to have any things that would mean something else from the beginning. I don't want to make a metaphor of anything, because I am convinced that if I respect the complexity of life the way I see it, the film is going to have a lot of layers and of meanings at the end, much more than if I just write down the message of my film. And I try to follow it all the way in the story.

MOVSHOVITZ: The layers of meaning that come out of day to day life have provided the material for a flowering of Romanian cinema.

Ms. PEGGY PARSONS (Film Programs Curator, National Gallery of Art) Some of the critics talk about a new wave in Romania. That's probably a very apt phrase. I mean, new wave is overused. But any time you see a lot of experimentation, a lot of good ideas that work coming out of a national cinema, you call it a new wave. And at the moment, that's what's going on in Romania.

MOVSHOVITZ: Peggy Parsons heads the film program at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Ms. PARSONS: Romania didn't really have the kind of Renaissance that some of the other Eastern European communist countries had back in the '60s and '70s where there was this quiet rebellion, quiet understanding among the artists that they were going to use symbolic language and certain kinds of signs to make movies about what they were going through. There wasn't that strong tradition of let's do something artistic and get away with it. But you know, you can make art over anything. And I think the fact that they're making art out of the life that they know so well in Romania and using their friends and using things that are right there in front of them, that's a very, very powerful drive. And reality is a lot richer than fantasy in many ways.

MOVSHOVITZ: The reality of time is what Cristian Mungiu explores throughout "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." Each scene of the film is made from one long, unedited take. Some run 10 minutes without a cut. Compare that to some Hollywood blockbusters which can average an edit every 3 seconds. Mungiu says that long takes allow the feelings of his actors to deepen as the scene progresses.

Mr. MUNGIU: And I think that much of the emotion of the film comes from this. I don't create emotion with the parts with, you know music or close-ups. And I don't make the rhythm from the editing. It's all what we could do with our bare hands, if you want. It's your skill regarding what the actors can do.

MOVSHOVITZ: For Cristian Mungiu, it's also a question of atmosphere and sense of place. He uses his camera to take audiences into the cluttered rooms and out on to the dimly lit streets. What happens to the two girls happens in a world with its own oppressive character. It's a place and a time which he says he had to expose.

Mr. MUNGIU: Once you decide to make a true film about this and to make an honest story about this, you have to decide from the beginning that if you have the courage to show everything the way you remembered, then you have to make the film. If not and you feel ashamed or guilty or politically correct and you won't offend people with showing them the truth, then you should just better make a romantic comedy or whatever.

MOVSHOVITZ: Despite Cristian Mungiu's subject matter and his decidedly uncommercial approach, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" has been one of the most popular attractions at film festivals. General audiences in this country will get a chance to see it as it opens in theaters over the coming months.

For NPR News, I'm Howie Movshovitz.

BLOCK: You can see a clip from "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" at npr.org/movies.

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