Cannes Flashback: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days

This is a continuation of a series looking back at contenders and winners at the Cannes Film Festival, in light of its 64th anniversary. Today, I’ll review the Palme D’or winner from 2007, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which I just saw for the first time this week.

About as stripped down as they come, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is a harrowing journey into the real time psychological conflict of perhaps, the most controversial medical procedure today: the abortion. The film takes place in Romania towards the end of the Cold War, and follows two college girls, one of whom is seeking an abortion. Forced to turn to the black market due to the procedure’s illegality under the Iron Curtain, the girls enlist the expertise of a man whom they have never even met. Thematically, though the film explores the procedure with occasionally graphic detail, it never makes any explicit judgements about the morality of abortion, remarkably staying objective, while nonetheless providing both girl’s subjectivity. What remains for the audience is the suspense of not knowing if the procedure will succeed. Although both girls are honest and willing to follow through with the procedure, their naivety and mistakes along the way may very well cost them their lives. When being briefed about the procedure, it becomes clear that the pregnant woman has not been telling the complete truth about her pregnancy.

Though the tension in the film escalates gradually, it is very rarely due to editorial choices. The film’s director, Christian Mungiu, opts instead for observational long takes, allowing the scenes to play out with occasionally unsettling realism. In fact, several of the scenes throughout the film are portrayed with just a single shot. Though maintaining such long takes may lead to the preconceived assumption of guaranteed boredom, what really holds the film together are the unquestionably strong performances from both of the girls, and especially from the doctor, who, due to the illegality of his business, becomes increasingly wary that the girls may be trying to rip him off. Also adding to the film’s stark visual palette is the absence of artificial lighting, save for whatever existing light is available within the interiors. When outside, the skies are overcast (always a filmmaker’s haven), and at night, it can even be difficult to discern the characters. Close ups are also rare in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. In some respects, this may feel alienating at times for those who are interested psychological cues from the characters. However, it only enhances the picture, not only for Mr. Mungui’s intentions with mis-en-scene, but also for the cold atmosphere of living under the Iron Curtain.

Though the journey is occasionally intense and uncomfortable, it is nevertheless an unflinching tale about the uncompromising psychological will of man, and a true test of the limits of friendship.

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~ by romancinema on May 17, 2011.

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