Who would have thought a few years ago that Romania would become a hotbed of film making talent? The first film to break through was 2005's 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu', which managed to secure a UK release on the arthouse circuit. Subsequent releases to critical acclaim have included 'California Dreamin' (also playing at the London Film Festival) and '12:08 East of Bucharest'. Further proof of a film making renaissance in Romania was at Cannes this year when 'Four Months Three Weeks and Two Days' won the Palme D'Or, which secured it a gala screening at this year's London Film Festival. Whilst there was some critical contention regarding whether the film deserved the main prize at Cannes, I'm pretty sure that none of the other nominees could match this film for sheer power and emotional impact.
Set in 1987 during the final years of Ceausescu regime, Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is a student who finds herself pregnant in a country where abortion is illegal. Assisted by her friend Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), Gabita seeks an illegal abortion. Mungiu then demonstrates, in great detail, the lengths that desperate women would have to go to in order to achieve this. First of all, there's the issue of finding a large sum of money, which is borrowed with great difficulty. Then there's the booking of a hotel room under false pretences, and then finding someone willing to perform the procedure (Mr Pepe, a shady individual demands sex from Otilia when the pair cannot deliver all the money, and even then he explains it might not work); all of which needs to be achieved without raising the suspicions of the authorities. The consequences of being uncovered would be dire for all. The attention to detail of all these events can only make us sympathetic to the cause of the two women, but never maniuplates us emotionally. Abortion wouldn't be something entered into lightly, and the sacrifices that need to be made by both women are numerous. Mungiu never flinches from showing us the reality of the situation.
The lengths gone to in order to ensure the abortion is achieved has a natural impact upon the relationship between the women - both have to lie to each other, and Otilia has to lie to her boyfriend and jeapordise her relationship with him in order to keep the abortion secret. It's interesting that Mungiu places his focus not on Gabita, but Otilia, who does all the running to make the abortion possible and also to cover it up afterwards, including disposing of the dead foetus. She makes the ultimate sacrifices for her friend's benefit, and one wonders whether their relationship is salvagable by the film's climax.
Put simply, this is possibly the most impressive film of the year and deserves all the plaudits and prizes it will achieve. Mungiu remains sympathetic to the two main protagonists, but he never makes overt and simple political points which would be all too easy to lapse into. The film is immersed in the kind of tension that is unbearable and nerve shattering at all times, as the procedures that need to be undertaken could at any time arouse suspicion and land the two women in the kind of trouble that isn't worth thinking about. Marinca, given the most demanding role, delivers an absolutely wonderful performance - it's hard to see where you'll see anything better this year. 'Four Months Three Weeks and Two Days' really is faultless, and whilst I'm reluctant to throw around adjectives like 'masterpiece' just yet, there's every chance it will be seen as one of the key films of the decade in years to come.